The race for the Pinellas County Judge Group 9 seat is coming down to a heated battle over experience.
Challenger Dwight Dudley says incumbent Myriam Irizarry lacks courtroom trial experience in Florida. Irizarry says Dudley has misrepresented her experience. Now Dudley says he’s sticking by his claim that she lacks trial experience and says Irizarry is at fault for any confusion because of apparently conflicting records.
Dudley was referring to apparent contradictions in statements Irizarry made in her last application to the Judicial Nominating Commission and information on her campaign website and in campaign literature.
“She lacks courtroom experience as an attorney in Florida,” Dudley said Friday. As for the apparent contradictions, “I think there’s a fair question” about the information.
“My resume that is with the JNC is the perfect resume,” Irizarry said.
The information on the website under “resume“ is not a resume, she said. “The website is highlights of my accomplishments. … Some of the dates are off.”
She added, “I stand by my resume that I submitted to the JNC.”
Because the campaign “resume” is only highlights, she said, information was left off in addition to the misdating issue.
“I can see how someone might ask the question,” Irizarry said.
Irizarry was the deputy clerk and general counsel in Clerk of Court Ken Burke’s office when she last applied to the JNC for an opening on the bench. Part of that application included a resume of her experience.
According to the resume that accompanied her application in 2015, she was a “staff attorney, Middlesex County Legal Services Corporation” from 1979 to 1981. However, she was not admitted to the New Jersey bar until 1981 after her 1980 graduation from Rutgers-Newark School of Law.
And, on the “resume” provided on her campaign site, she says she was a “staff attorney, Middlesex County Legal Services Corp” from 1981 to 1982.
If you look back at the resume submitted to the JNC, she says that from 1981 to 1982 she was an “attorney office administrator, Essex-Newark Legal Services.” That’s not even mentioned on the website.
There are other date disagreements between the two documents.
On the resume given to the JNC, she says she was a “partner, Rivera and Rodriguez, attorneys at law” in New Brunswick from 1983 to 1985. (Irizarry’s maiden name is Rivera.) Yet, on her campaign website, she says she was with Rivera and Rodriguez only from 1984-1985.
And, she worked for the Pinellas County Clerk’s office from 1988 to 2015 when she was appointed to the judiciary by Gov. Rick Scott. But the information on her website indicates she began working for the clerk in 1998.
Irizarry said she’s not sure why the date on the website is wrong. She suggested that might be when she received the promotion to deputy clerk.
On her campaign site, Irizarry claims to have handled more than “7,000 matters, including jury trials, pretrial motions/hearings and arraignments” in the year since she was appointed to the bench. In a recent mailer, however, she claimed she had handled more than 8,000 such matters in that same period.
Both are correct, she said. The 7,000 figure was accurate as of early June. When the campaign began developing the mailer, a second count took place, and campaign workers found that the number had increased.
On that same mailer, Irizarry claims to have presided over “30+” jury trials in the past year. But Dudley said that, during forums, she has claimed to have presided over both “30-plus” and “40-plus” trials.
Irizarry said the accurate number is 34.
“I don’t recall ever saying 40-plus trials,” she said.
Elsewhere on the mailer, Irizarry claims to have “represented” the Pinellas County Clerk of Court from 2003 to 2015. The implication is that she would be the attorney who represents the department in court in legal disputes. But that’s not the way the Pinellas County Charter reads.
According to the charter, that job belongs to Pinellas County attorney Jim Bennett. As the county attorney’s website points out, “The Pinellas County Charter provides that the office of county attorney shall be responsible for the representation of county government …. constitutional officers and all other departments, divisions, regulatory boards and advisory boards of county government in all legal matters relating to their official responsibilities.”
The Clerk of Court is a constitutional office.
That might be what the charter says, but Irizarry said that’s not the way Burke and many other clerks run their offices. Many clerks have hired in-house lawyers to help hold costs down. If there were something Bennett needed to do, Irizarry said, she would have been the one to contact him and oversee the work.
“The clerk was my client,” Irizarry said. “As general counsel for the clerk, I was the lawyer for the clerk.”
Irizarry said she believes that became an issue because Dudley wanted to claim she had never had a Florida client, but the clerk of court “is a pretty darn big client.”
Dudley said he’s always focused on Irizarry’s trial experience — or lack of it — in Florida. And, in that, he said, she’s lacking.
“If you’re going to be a trial judge, it is useful in an adversarial system to have experience in motions … trials as an attorney,” Dudley said.
The election is Tuesday. Because the race is nonpartisan, any voter can cast a ballot.