- By The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
County court is, for many people, their first exposure to the court system. It’s where judges hear civil cases in which the amount in dispute is $15,000 or less, and criminal misdemeanors, which are crimes that have a possible sentence of less than a year in jail.
It’s a world of packed dockets, heavy workloads and litigants who show up without a lawyer. The issues at stake aren’t glamorous but are woven into daily life — things such as traffic infractions and landlord-tenant disputes.
The eight candidates competing for two county judgeships in the Aug. 28 primary — they’ll replace judges retiring in January — all say they are ready and able to preside over a hectic courtroom. All pledge to take the time to explain procedures to folks who are new to a courthouse and all promise to treat everyone with respect.
The candidates competing in Group 4 include attorneys Allen “Antonio” Ambrosino, Lloyd Comiter, Gabriel “Gabe” Ermine and Ashley Zuckerman. Comiter is also a traffic hearing officer and a certified mediator, which are judge-like jobs. But only Allegra Fung has experience on both the civil and criminal side of the court system. For this and other reasons, she is the best choice in Group 4.
An attorney for 18 years, the 43-year-old Fung has an exceptionally well-rounded background. In her varied career, she has run her own firm, defended insurance cases for corporations and represented homeowners in foreclosures. She has an air of knowledgeability and imperturbability, obvious assets in a judge.
She grew up in Miami as, she says, a “point-zero-one-percent,” the only Chinese-Jamaican girl in her high school. “I knew adversity early on,” she told The Post Editorial Board.
Fung began as an assistant public defender in Palm Beach County in the juvenile division, where she realized that a judge wielded unique power to improve the lives of children.
“I wanted to have that kind of effect on the community.”
If she wins, Fung will be the first elected Chinese judge in the state of Florida.
The candidates for the Group 5 seat include Sara Alijewicz, an attorney and former Palm Beach County magistrate who has conducted hearings and trials in family, juvenile, mental health and guardianship cases. She got high marks in the last year’s survey of lawyers in the Palm Beach County Bar Association, and she is so drawn to community service that, she says, if elected she would relish assignment to Belle Glade. Also running is Jeremy Zubkoff, an attorney who specializes in condominium litigation but has handled more than 80 trials in cases around the state of Florida. Zubkoff, who ran unsuccessfully for Palm Beach County Circuit judge seat in 2016, said he will bring that work ethic to the county court.
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But the Post endorses Richard Llerena, 36, a lawyer with both civil and criminal court experience who has worked as a defense attorney for an insurance company as well as for individuals in immigration cases.
The son of Cuban emigres, Llerena says he wants to play a role in protecting the American liberties his family has cherished here. “I won’t be afraid to declare something unconstitutional,” he told the Editorial Board — for example, an improper demand by authorities for someone to prove their citizenship.
Asked what attributes he would bring to the bench, Llerena said: “Intellect, energy and passion for the job.” He would also bring a fluent command of Spanish, which would be especially useful if he were to preside over criminal misdemeanors, where the number of working class Hispanic defendants is increasing.
A board member of the Lake Worth West Community Center, which provides educational, recreational and cultural services to a largely Hispanic populace, Llerena would help bring a welcome — and needed — perspective to the county court bench.
We believe our county courts would be best served by Fung and Llerena.
Read all of The Post’s endorsements online at www.MyPalmBeachPost.com/2018-endorsements.