Never in her soon-to-end judicial career has Judge Jeri B. Cohen enjoyed herself more than in the Elenita custody case. Anyone who has ever witnessed her courtroom antics, which go far beyond the usual histrionics indulged in by most judges, cannot but be struck by her relentless, even compulsive, seeking of the spotlight. If Elenita had ever been permitted to be present at the star-chamber proceedings that will decide her future (or, rather, whether she will have any future at all), no doubt she would have been placed at the judge's orders far outside camera view, ostensibly to protect her privacy but really to prevent her from upstaging the judge. It is, rather odd, by the way, that children in this country have privacy rights but not the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That right must be contested in a courtroom on an individual basis and at great public expense. But no matter; if we start to chronicle again the irregularities of this case, or, more disturbing still, the irregularities of this judge, we would literally have to start from the beginning, and we have been here from the beginning anyway.
Judge Cohen is dissatisfied that the Third Court of Appeals has taken a week so far to consider her previous holding that Rafael Izquierdo is a marginally-fit father, especially after her dramatic plea last week: "I'm begging the Third District Court of Appeals on my hands and knees. I'm begging them to hear this on an expedited basis. There has got to be an end in sight." We are surprised, too, that the appellate court hasn't ruled yet because there is nothing in the evidence that would lead an impartial judge to conclude that Izquierdo is a fit-father on the basis of the evidence presented in Cohen's courtroom much less the evidence which she capriciously barred in arriving at her decision. Still, protocal demands that a circuit judge not presume to dictate to an appellate court how it should handle the cases referred to it on appeal. The vice-president, after all, doesn't tell the president what to do (bad example). In any case, her maudlin plea to the appellate court last week to act with all deliberate speed has not been heeded. So a petulent Judge Cohen has, in effect, uttered the judicial equivalent of "Fuck You!" and decided to resume the case, on her own authority, while she waits for the appellate court to decide whether her finding in "Phase 1" of these proceedings shall be upheld or reversed. Here's a better comparison: she has decided to resume, unilaterally, the game during time out while the referee decides a disputed call.
As is pro forma, Judge Cohen stayed the custody case last week while the appellate court decided the appeal. This was not only in conformity with established law, but also was the logical thing to do. How can she advanced from "Phase 1" to "Phase 2" if "Phase 2" depends on the outcome of "Phase 1"? If the appellate court reverses her decision that Rafael Izquierdo is a a fit father, then "Phase 2" becomes a moot point. If the appellate court rules Izquierdo an unfit father, what would be the point of adjudicating whether it would be in Elenita's best interests to have custody given to him?
But logic and precedent have never prevented Judge Cohen from having her own way in her courtroom. Against the advisement of the Department of Children and Family Services, which appealed her initial decision, and in order, once again, to hog the spotlight, Judge Cohen has decided that she is not going to stay the case while she awaits the Third Appellate Court's decision but proceed with this judicial farce anyway. She made her decision, in her own words, "based on my years of experience [and] I did a little research on my own." Well, I guess that settles the matter. Her "years of experience" and "a little research of [her] own" trumps logic and judicial precedent. We have said it before: Judge Cohen is a law unto herself and the magistracy practiced in her courtroom has more in common with Judge Judy's than what is mandated by established law.
Her decision to resume the case will no doubt be subject to yet another appeal. Meanwhile, the judge set testimony in "Phase 2" of the trial to begin on Monday. This phase of the trial is known as the endangerment hearing where the DFC will argue that the child will be emotionally-damaged if returned to the custody of the father who abandoned her and consented to her abuse at the mother's hands. Of course, Judge Cohen has already held the father to be a marginally-fit parent, which, as I've previously observed, is certainly as good as a marginally-fit spouse, a marginally-fit doctor or a marginally-fit judge. On that basis Izquierdo's attorteys, Kurzban and Montiel-Davis, are also appealing the constitutionality of the endangerment hearing arguing that a marginally-fit parent does not pose any danger to his child.
And so, the farce continue.
It may be wrong to suggest that Judge Cohen's judicial career may soon be over. Yes, it is unlikely that she will be re-elected as circuit judge if she's foolish enough to decide that notoriety equals popularity and runs again in 2008. Not only her conduct in the Elenita case but her previous remark in another case, which we were the first to report and relate to the present case, that crime in Florida would cease if all Cubans were deported, will effectively end her judicial career in Miami-Dade. Of course, President Hillary Clinton could appoint her a district or appellate judge. Or even Attorney General.