For Marina Garcia-Wood, hard work, persistence and patience finally paid off in a decade-long quest to become a judge.
So did a tactical decision to appear a little less Hispanic to Broward County voters. Next month, Garcia-Wood will become Broward’s eighth Hispanic judge after running a successful, partly self-financed campaign that landed her a seat on the circuit court. In a rare feat, she won the judgeship by election, not appointment—the usual and politically freighted route for Hispanic judges in Broward.
Hispanics applauded Garcia-Wood’s victory as a political milestone, even if, at the urging of her campaign advisor, Tony Gargiulo, she dropped her Hispanic maiden name from the ballot. While she campaigned as Marina Garcia-Wood—the name she kept after divorcing real estate attorney Dennis Wood in 1999—she appeared on the ballot as Marina G. Wood.
“I wanted to make a statement that we have qualified Hispanics in Broward County willing to do what’s necessary to win an election,” she said. “I felt this was my time. I’m hoping my election will inspire other Hispanics to seek office.”
Garcia-Wood said other Hispanics already knew who she was from her public appearances and campaign literature, where her full name appeared. It was to avoid alienating other Broward residents who might be reluctant to vote for a Hispanic judge, she said, that she heeded the recommendation to delete the “Garcia” part of her name from the ballot.
Hispanics now make up 21 percent of Broward’s population, but hold just under 10 percent of the 84 judgeships. Garcia-Wood joins seven other Hispanics, including Robert Diaz, Robert Lee, Catalina Avalos and Julio Gonzalez in county court, and Ana Gardiner, Mily Rodriguez-Powell and Pedro E. Dijols in circuit court.
Fresh from the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba, she was held back a year in school for lack of English.
“It caused me trauma. But once I learned the language and assimilated, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to represent people who weren’t able to have a voice in court,” she said.
Garcia-Wood graduated with a law degree in 1986 from the University of Florida College of Law. Two years later, she was practicing commercial law for the firm of Walter M. Dingwall in Fort Lauderdale, before moving to matrimonial and family law.
Active in Hollywood politics, she wrote the resolution that led to the creation of the Hispanic Affairs Council, which launched the city’s Latin festival and Hispanic Recognition Day.
Hispanics embraced her electoral success as a coup for the country’s fastest-growing minority.
“She will do a great job for the entire community, not just the Hispanic community. But having said that, her election is a sign that Hispanics have joined the mainstream of Broward politics,” said Hyram Montero, president of the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association.