THE CAPTAIN REPORTS:
In a shocker of shockers, Governor DeSantis names Judge Renatha Francis as Florida's newest Supreme Court Justice. Check the Comments section for more on this developing story.
CIRCUIT COURT GROUP 52 ....
Pits Incumbent Judge Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts against former Judge Jason Bloch.
First a little background on the two candidates:
In 2014, Rodriguez-Fonts ran against Martin Zilber for Circuit Court Judge. Zilber beat him - we all know how that story ended.
In 2016, Rodriguez-Fonts ran against Rosy Aponte and Carol "Jodie" Breece. Rodriguez-Fonts beat Breece in the run-off.
Jason Bloch was appointed as a Circuit Court Judge in 2014 by Gov. Rick Scott. When he had to face the voters in 2016 he drew opposition from Marcia Del Rey. Del Rey won over the voters by a count of 52-48%.
Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts has a net worth of $24,000. His salary comes from his work as a Circuit Court Judge. He is paid $161,688. He has raised $191,440 from a total of 409 contributors. He has so far spent $109,042 on his campaign.
Jason Bloch has a New Worth of $72,379,625 (that is not a misprint). Jason Bloch's salary (income) in 2021 was $1,699,142. That entire amount was made up from stock dividends in the amount of $374,063 and a stock sale of some (not all) of his Apple shares in the amount of $1,325,079. Mr. Bloch still owns at least $14,560,740 in Apple stock. Jason Bloch has no other apparent source of income at the present time. According to his campaign literature, since leaving the bench, Jason has focused his legal practice on pro bono representation of people in need, and working with nonprofit organizations. Mr. Bloch is self-funding his judicial campaign. He has reported spending $199,533 to date on his campaign.
Both candidates have been in the news lately and in the spirit of hearing from both sides here is what we can tell you.
Judge Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts appeared at a function organized by the Christian Family Coalition (CFC) of Florida. He spoke at that function. The function took place the day after the United States Supreme Court announced its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that overturned the right to an abortion as found in Roe v Wade. Judge Rodriguez Fonts has been widely criticized for appearing at the CFC function, and for speaking at the function. Some people assumed that he was there because of his beliefs on the issue of abortion (and other issues that CFC stands for). Some people believed that his speech was saluting the SCOTUS ruling.
Judge Rodriguez-Fonts has adamantly denied all of those allegations.
1. Judge Rodriguez-Fonts has indicated that he had accepted an invitation to be at the CFC function well before Roe was reversed. (According to the President of the CFC, Anthony Verdugo, invitations to the event went out approximately 4-6 weeks before the SCOTUS decision).
2. Judge Rodriguez-Fonts has indicated that he spoke for less than five minutes and simply introduced himself and touted his candidacy for re-election as a Circuit Court Judge. (According to Verdugo, Judge Rodriguez Fonts spoke about his experience on the bench and his candidacy for re-election).
3. Judge Rodriguez-Fonts has professed that in no way did he endorse anything having to do with the issue of abortion.
4. Judge Rodriguez-Fonts has stated that he never signed any letter stating that he was anti-gay or anti- woman.
It should be noted that Judge Rodriguez-Fonts has received the “endorsement” from the CFC ( they do not call it an endorsement but instead state that he is a Highly Qualified candidate, as compared to his opponent).
The question does need to be asked though, what does it take for a candidate to earn the badge of Highly Qualified from the CFC?
According to the web site of the CFC of Florida, it states as follows:
“The Christian Family Coalition was founded with the purpose of serving as a voice for the pro-family citizens of Florida to ensure that our religious liberties are protected from government intrusion.”
“The Christian Family Coalition works to introduce pro-family legislation at the state and local levels of government. We inform and educate citizens on where candidates stand on the issues that affect the traditional family unit.”
So, what questions did Judge Rodriguez-Fonts answer, and what were those answers that earned him the Highly Qualified stamp of approval?
We asked those questions directly to the President of the Christian Family Coalition of Florida, Mr. Anthony Verdugo. Mr. Verdugo was very cordial and answered all of our questions. In order to be considered for a rating from the CFC of Highly Qualified, a candidate is invited to do three things:
1. Complete an Application
2. Answer a Questionnaire
3. Appear before a live panel and answer questions.
Mr. Verdugo was very clear to point out that, while he is not an attorney, several attorneys do serve on the panel. They are all aware of the prohibition of judges, or judicial candidates, taking a position on any issues. Therefore they do not ask questions concerning issues such as abortion or gay marriage, etc. They understand that judicial contests are non-partisan, they just want to know that the candidate will represent the entire community.
The CFC wants a commitment from the Judge that they will abide by the written text of the constitution and the laws of the State of Florida. They invite all candidates to participate in the process. If a candidate refuses to participate that is their choice but it certainly shows a “lack of respect” for our organization, and the entire community, if they do not participate. They ask the candidate whether they believe that the constitution is a living and breathing document or should be interpreted precisely as written. They want to know that a judge will “follow the law” and “honor their oath of office”. Some judges “make up the rules as they go along and those judges do not have integrity nor character”.
We then spoke directly with Judge Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts. We wanted to know whether he was required to sign anything that mentioned abortion, gay rights, or any other issues. Here is what Judge Rodriguez-Fonts said to us in response:
“You are correct, as to the three things a candidate does as part of the CFC process. I assure you that at no time did I take a stance on Gay marriage or abortion issues while at the CFC candidate panel interview. In fact, it should be noted that when I was assigned to the Family Law Division, I routinely entered orders granting the adoption of children by same sex married couples. In addition, contrary to the allegations being published about me, I have never signed any letter or document denouncing womens' rights or LGBTQ rights.
I hope this was helpful in responding to your questions. “
Jason Bloch has also made the news recently. More than a few people began receiving text messages recently maligning the candidacy of Judge Rodriguez-Fonts. According to some of our readers, the content of these texts stated that:
“Judge Rodriguez-Fonts signed a letter denouncing women’s rights groups and LGBTQ groups.” The text went on to say that Rodriguez-Fonts was a “radical” judge.
HERE IS THE ACTUAL TEXT MESSAGE:
Many people assumed that Jason Bloch was responsible (through consultants or others) for these text messages. We contacted Mr. Bloch and asked him to address the allegations. Here is his response, unedited:
“I admit that upon the advice of colleagues when I became a judge, I’ve tried to avoid reading the Blog, without complete success. But I understand that you put out a fair and well-written column and so I thank you for the opportunity to respond.
With reference to text messages, my campaign hasn’t engaged in any text message efforts. I became aware of what I assume is the text you refer to when friends shared it with me. Prior to that, I had not seen it or been aware of it.
You may be aware that there is a Facebook page purporting to be on behalf of my opponent’s campaign, presently named “Elect Al Juez Correcto,” and previously named after my opponent (“Elect Rodriguez Rodriguez-Fonts”). It shares his picture and campaign material, levels attacks against me and a sitting judge, and is laden with appallingly racist posts and offensive content. My opponent denies that he is responsible, and I take him at his word.
My point is when there are voices in support or against a candidate, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are from the campaign.
I believe I can make my case for election based on qualifications and merit alone.
That said, I believe my opponent’s relationship with the CFC going back many years, and especially his highly visible participation in their recent “Legislative Victory and Candidates Breakfast,” which celebrated the CFC’s legislative achievements and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, has raised a legitimate issue for lawyers and voters.
I have observed that this issue has garnered significant attention on its own, without needing any help from me. I have heard from many individuals and organizations who are genuinely troubled by this, and who have expressed reactions ranging from profound disappointment to outrage. Many have undertaken their own messaging and advocacy efforts in response, all quite independent from me and my campaign. While my campaign has noted the CFC’s backing and stances in some of our materials - and we stand behind those - we are not responsible for the text messages you cite.
I was not invited to attend the CFC’s “victory” (and so-called “candidates” breakfast), nor would I have gone if I had been. (My understanding is that my opponent was the only judge to attend.) The “victories” being celebrated, including the demise of Roe, were well known beforehand, as the Miami Herald reported on it in advance of the event as did the CFC itself. Further, the timing and stated purpose of this event made it particularly fraught. The Judicial Canons, see e.g., Canons 1, 2, 4 and 7, and good judgment, counsel against my attending any event advocating either side of a divisive or polarizing issue, regardless of personal beliefs or legal opinion.
For better or worse, judicial candidates must campaign and seek votes. But preserving the impartiality of the judiciary, and the perception of impartiality, is on a much higher plane, perhaps now more than ever. This must always trump the aspirations of any candidate. There is reason why the Canons preclude judges from attending political events and place other limitations on conduct.
I was also not invited to participate in the CFC’s endorsement or screening process. So, I am not well-versed in the details, but my understanding from others is that the CFC requires those who they back, like my opponent, to sign a letter to maintain CFC’s “highly qualified” rating. I do not have any proof one way or another whether my opponent signed the letter described in the message. I never alleged he did.
I suggest that you ask CFC and my opponent what is required to get CFC’s backing and whether he signed any letters for them.”
So now you have the facts. Our humble Blog believes that our readers, and the voters of Miami-Dade County are entitled to the facts and to be well informed on the qualifications, (or lack thereof), of the judicial candidates.
It is now for you to decide who gets your vote: Judge Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts or his opponent Jason Bloch.
ON A SEPARATE NOTE:
There seems to sometimes be confusion on who exactly is the author of these judicial election posts. When you see THE CAPTAIN REPORTS that is the work of Captain Justice for the Justice Building Blog. I write the columns (posts) about the JNC process, gubernatorial appointments, and judicial elections. Rumpole has been kind enough to lend me this thread for the past 17 years, and in all that time, he has only censured me one time. I have never been compensated once in those 17 years for anything that appears under my byline. I do not personally know Judge Jean; I have never personally appeared before her. I may have attended a bar function that she also attended and said hello. That is the extent of my connection to Judge Jean. I thank Rumpole for always having my back and for responding to all of those ridiculous comments in my post from Wednesday accusing me (and him) of somehow profiting from the Jean camp.
CAPTAIN OUT .......