In her run for Palm Beach County court judge, Dana Santino has attempted to disparage her opponent, Attorney Gregg Lerman, by stating that she is concerned that he “chooses to represent individuals who commit heinous crimes.” As attorneys, we are equally concerned that an individual who clearly does not understand or respect our system of justice should seek to preside over a county courtroom.
County court handles all misdemeanor cases — more than 20,000 cases were filed in 2011. In that same year there were more than 400 misdemeanor trials, about 86 percent of them were jury trials. The presumption of innocence and the guarantee of due process are the foundational principles of our criminal system of justice. One would hope that any candidate seeking to serve as a county court judge would understand and honor that system. One would also hope that a judicial candidate would recognize that the system cannot work without talented attorneys who are dedicated to that system, not just by word, but by the deed of representing citizens accused of crimes — especially the most heinous.
Lady Justice is portrayed as blind because every person, regardless of race, creed, sex, or religion and irrespective of the crime with which they are charged, is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond each and every reasonable doubt to a jury of their peers. This system of justice was crafted brilliantly by our founding fathers to protect every citizen from tyranny. Indeed, our system of justice is held as a beacon of hope to those living in regimes where guilt is not proven, but merely pronounced.
Clearly, Ms. Santino does not understand that the system of justice cannot endure without the attorneys who dedicate their lives to protecting our values and freedoms. No attorney or individual should ever act as prosecutor, judge and jury.
It is shocking that an individual claiming a right to a judgeship should express such disdain for this universally honored system or the incredibly dedicated individuals who tirelessly ensure the integrity of that system for every citizen. Indeed, it is the individuals accused of the worst crimes, with the most to lose, who most need the system to work properly.
Through her comments, it is our opinion that Ms. Santino has expressed a bias against criminal defendants and their attorneys that disqualifies her from presiding over criminal cases. Given that so many of the cases presented in County Court are criminal, Ms. Santino does not have the qualifications necessary to effectively serve our county as a judge.
TAMA BETH KUDMAN, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: Kudman is a criminal defense attorney and former chair of the Criminal Law Committee of the Palm Beach County Bar Association. She was joined in this letter by a dozen other local attorneys.
The presumption of innocence and the guarantee of due process are the foundational principals of our criminal system of justice.
This post originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post on Oct. 22, 2016