Beth Reinhard, Miami Herald, March 11, 2006
A Broward County judge on the shortlist for a promotion to Circuit Court has repeatedly asked traffic court defendants if they were here illegally, and in at least one case, turned over an illegal immigrant to law enforcement.
Several Hispanic attorneys and judges questioned whether Broward County Judge Lee Seidman broke rules governing courtroom procedure. And members of a judicial screening committee who put him on the shortlist said he misled them about his treatment of illegal immigrants.
Seidman denied any wrongdoing in a telephone interview on Friday.
In a March 24, 2003 hearing, Seidman reviewed the charges against Hilmer Morales: driving with a broken taillight and driving without a license.
“Have a seat,” Seidman told the 22-year-old man, after Morales acknowledged through a translator that he was here illegally from Peru. “You’re ordered not to leave until you’re checked in by the sheriff’s office for the immigration issue.”
Judges are supposed to notify all defendants that pleading not guilty or no contest could lead to their deportation if they are not U.S. citizens, according to the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure.
But the rules also suggest that defendants should not be asked about their citizenship. That’s because the question could force them to incriminate themselves, in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“You don’t ask those questions,” said Broward County Judge Robert W. Lee, a former president of the Broward Hispanic Bar Association. “The rule says no. The case law says no. Whether you like it or not, you’re supposed to be a neutral party, not law enforcement.”
Lee was one of several Hispanic attorneys and judges who raised questions about Seidman’s conduct after The Miami Herald informed them about the March 24, 2003 hearing. The Judicial Qualifications Commission, which examines allegations of judicial misconduct and recommends disciplinary action, should be notified, said Ramon Abadin, past president of the Cuban-American Bar Association and a member of the Florida Supreme Court Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity.