By Dan Christensen, browardbulldog.org
When Broward Circuit Judge Victor Tobin was elected chief judge two years ago he vowed to heal a deeply divided courthouse and restore public faith in Broward’s judiciary.
But Tobin’s recent decision to transfer two rival veteran judges to divisions they did not request, and have told supporters they do not want, is fueling fresh resentment and reopening old wounds at the courthouse.
“What’s happened is so petty, so vindictive,” said a judge who supported Tobin two years ago and spoke on condition of anonymity. “I can’t even look Vic Tobin in the face anymore.”
Tobin, right, did not respond to a request for comment. A judge who is a Tobin ally said, “I don’t think for a moment that Vic has done anything vindictive. He wants to be elected again. He’s bent over backwards to do the best he can.”
Tobin’s Nov. 5 order reshuffles nearly a dozen Broward judges in and out of the circuit court’s criminal, civil, probate and family divisions starting in January. Most requested their transfers, but two of Broward’s longest serving judges – Thomas M. Lynch IV and Dale Ross – were ordered to move against their wishes. Ross has been a judge for 28 years; Lynch for 25 years.
Lynch lost a hotly contested chief judge’s race to Tobin in 2007. Ross, Tobin’s predecessor as chief judge, is Lynch’s friend and supporter.
Broward’s 90 full time circuit and county court judges elect the chief judge every two years.
The chief judge is first among equals. He sets court policy and assigns judges to various divisions and offices, but has no authority to fire or discipline another judge.
Tobin was elected chief in July 2007 amid a crisis in confidence. More than a half-dozen Broward judges had made unsavory headlines — including Judge Lawrence Korda, who was charged with smoking pot in a Hollywood park. Korda later resigned.
Meanwhile, Tobin’s legal feud with another pro-Lynch antagonist – former County Court Judge Jay Spechler – ended Tuesday. Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Spechler’s request to review what happened last year when Tobin banished him from the main courthouse and demoted him to hearing traffic cases in a satellite court.
Spechler, who quit because of it, had claimed Tobin retaliated against him for backing Lynch in the chief judge’s race, and for speaking his mind at an internal judges’ meeting. But his lawsuit, filed by Boca Raton lawyer Robert Sweetapple, was rejected by judges at every level of the federal court system.
Under Tobin’s reassignment order, Lynch was reassigned from civil court to the criminal bench. Ross was switched from probate to civil court.
Lynch declined comment. Ross did not return messages seeking comment.
The transfer order was issued while Tobin considers whether to implement a rotation plan for judges proposed by a committee of judges chaired by Circuit Judge Robert Carney. The plan exempts circuit judges with 20 or more years on the bench from being moved unless they agreed.