Lissette De La Rosa
The 2022 election for Miami-Dade County Court saw a contentious battle between incumbent Judge Jeffrey Kolokoff and challenger Lissette De La Rosa. While Kolokoff had over a decade of experience on the bench, De La Rosa argued it was time for new perspectives in the county court. She ultimately prevailed in the August primary, unseating Kolokoff in what observers called an “upset victory.”
This race provides an interesting case study in how challengers can take on incumbents in local judicial elections. By examining the candidates’ backgrounds, the key issues that shaped the race, and what De La Rosa’s win represents for the future, we can better understand the dynamics at play in contests like these.
Background on the Miami-Dade County Court
To appreciate this match-up between Kolokoff and De La Rosa, it helps to understand the role of the Miami-Dade County Court itself.
Jurisdiction and caseload
The Miami-Dade County Court is the lower court in the county, handling misdemeanors, traffic offenses, and civil cases involving claims of up to $30,000. On average, around 275,000 cases are filed there each year across its 9 divisions and 38 judges. The court deals with issues from DWIs and thefts to small claims lawsuits and landlord-tenant disputes. For many Miami-Dade residents, it is the primary venue where they interact with the justice system.
Judges and elections
Judges serve 6-year terms and face election on a nonpartisan ballot. If they avoid drawing an opponent, they are automatically re-elected. But contested elections do occur, providing an opportunity to evaluate incumbents’ records. These races offer a chance for voters to have a direct say in who serves on this court handling vital local matters.
Jeffrey Kolokoff’s Career as an Incumbent Judge
To set the stage for the 2022 showdown, we must first review Jeffrey Kolokoff’s background and over 11 years on the bench.
Kolokoff came to the county court with extensive experience as an attorney in Miami. He worked in private practice focusing on construction, real estate, and business litigation. Kolokoff also served as a hearing officer for the City of Miami and maintained an active pro bono practice.
Time on the county court bench
In 2011, Kolokoff was appointed to the county court by Florida Governor Rick Scott. He ran unopposed in 2012 and 2014, winning full terms. During his tenure, Kolokoff heard thousands of cases ranging from DUIs to evictions. He developed a reputation as a tough judge who ran an efficient courtroom.
However, he also generated controversy at times regarding his conduct and legal decisions. As the 2022 election approached, Kolokoff had to defend his record from a challenger who argued it was time for change.
Lissette De La Rosa Challenges the Incumbent
Seeking to unseat Kolokoff was Lissette De La Rosa, a lawyer with her own extensive background in Miami’s legal community. She stepped up to provide a alternative choice in the election.
De La Rosa worked as an assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade for over 15 years. She prosecuted crimes such as domestic violence and sex offenses. She also supervised attorney training programs. This experience in criminal law gave De La Rosa key expertise for serving on the county court bench.
Motivations for running
In announcing her campaign, De La Rosa said she was motivated to run because the county court needed “new energy and perspectives” after years under Kolokoff’s oversight. She wanted to bring fresh eyes to how the court administered justice and interacted with the public. De La Rosa highlighted her own diverse background as the daughter of Cuban immigrants. She said this shaped her commitment to being a fair and compassionate judge.
The 2022 Miami-Dade County Court Election
With the candidates’ backgrounds established, let’s examine how the campaign between De La Rosa and Kolokoff played out.
Primary election results
In the August 23rd primary for Miami-Dade County Court, Lissette De La Rosa prevailed over Jeffrey Kolokoff in a close contest. De La Rosa received 50.9% of the vote compared to Kolokoff’s 49.1%. This narrow margin of around 5,000 votes allowed De La Rosa to win the seat outright without a runoff.
Key issues and themes
During the primary campaign, De La Rosa focused heavily on the need for new blood in the county court. She portrayed herself as an agent of change against Kolokoff’s status quo. De La Rosa also emphasized her extensive experience as a prosecutor making her qualified to serve.
For his part, Kolokoff touted his over 10 years on the bench managing a heavy caseload. He argued that his judicial record showed his commitment to fairness, efficiency, and upholding the law. However, Kolokoff was also put on the defensive regarding some controversies from his time as judge.
Ultimately, De La Rosa’s messagecalling for a new direction resonated slightly more with primary voters, allowing her to achieve victory. But Kolokoff’s competitive showing still demonstrated the appeal of his experience. Both candidates demonstrated their qualifications during the hard-fought primary race.
Comparing the Candidates’ Backgrounds and Qualifications
Given how close the election was, it’s worth delving into the strengths De La Rosa and Kolokoff both brought to the campaign as candidates.
Legal career highlights
As covered previously, De La Rosa and Kolokoff each had over 15 years working in the Miami legal community before facing off for judge. De La Rosa prosecuted criminal cases as an assistant state attorney. Kolokoff worked in private practice specializing in civil litigation. Both candidates brought robust experience that prepared them for handling the diverse caseload of the county court.
Evaluations and endorsements
Leading legal organizations reviewed both candidates as qualified for the bench. De La Rosa scored an average of 4 out of 5 in her annual evaluations by the Dade County Bar and Florida Bar. Kolokoff received passing evaluations during his 10+ years as a judge. These reviews indicated both brought solid technical skills to the job.
In terms of endorsements, De La Rosa lined up support from groups representing Latino lawyers and labor unions. Kolokoff won endorsements from the police union, business organizations, and some Republican elected officials. The split backing reflected the idealogical divisions in the nonpartisan race.
Fundraising provides another useful metric for gauging candidate strength. Kolokoff significantly outraised De La Rosa in the primary race. He took in over $200,000 compared to her $27,000. This showing demonstrated his establishment support. However, De La Rosa was able to overcome this financial deficit through grassroots outreach. Her win proved that underdog challengers can still compete in local judicial elections.
Assessing Kolokoff’s Record as a Judge
A core argument from De La Rosa’s campaign was the need for change from Jeffrey Kolokoff’s tenure on the bench. Let’s review his 11-year judicial record that shaped the dynamics of the race.
Judicial philosophy and notable rulings
Judge Kolokoff cultivated a reputation as a stringent judge who stressed personal responsibility in his rulings. For instance, he rejected leniency for a 19-year-old man convicted of armed robbery despite his age, admonishing him to “stop blaming others.” Kolokoff also required community service from defendants, even in minor cases like traffic violations.
Critics argued Kolokoff’s rigid approach disregarded mitigating circumstances and rehabilitation. However, his backers praised him for upholding the law and sending a message that actions have consequences. These philosophical differences fueled the debate around giving Kolokoff another term.
Controversies and criticisms
Two controversies in particular shadowed Kolokoff’s reelection campaign. First, a 2006 incident came to light where Kolokoff intervened in a case involving his wife’s former law partner. The state judicial commission admonished Kolokoff for this conflict of interest.
Secondly, Kolokoff faced allegations of demeaning behavior toward defendants and litigants before his court. Complaints accused him of unnecessary sarcasm, belittling language, and cultural insensitivity. Kolokoff denied systematic misconduct, but acknowledged a need to show more patience from the bench at times.
These incidents allowed De La Rosa to argue Kolokoff showed questionable temperament and judgment. But he defended his overall track record, while pledging improvement going forward. Once again, voters faced an ideological debate on the campaign trail.
What De La Rosa Represents as the Challenger
Challenger Lissette De La Rosa did not shy away from critiquing the incumbent’s record. But she also put forward her own positive vision for the county court’s future.
Calls for new perspectives
De La Rosa’s central campaign theme involved bringing fresh perspectives to the bench. She spoke of her own experiences as a Cuban-American woman and prosecutor. De La Rosa promised to leverage this background to make the court process more empowering and just for the community. She offered herself as a judge who would relate to and reflect everyday citizens.
Focus on serving the community
Beyond new perspectives, De La Rosa wanted to make the county court work better for Miami’s residents. She proposed streamlining court procedures to improve efficiency and transparency. De La Rosa also emphasized providing Spanish translators and cultural competency training for staff. Additionally, she supported expanding diversion programs and alternative sentencing options to rehabilitate youth and non-violent offenders. Her community-focused stance distinguished De La Rosa as a progressive alternative to Kolokoff.
The Road Ahead for Judge De La Rosa
With her hard-fought victory in the election, Lissette De La Rosa now looks ahead to her new role as judge and her priorities upon taking office.
Priorities upon taking office
As she assumes the bench in 2023, De La Rosa will be focused on updating court procedures to assist self-represented litigants and non-English speakers. Enhancing language access is a top concern. De La Rosa also wants to evaluate existing diversion programs to see where they can be expanded and improved. Additionally, she plans to observe courtroom interactions closely to ensure respect and cultural awareness. Putting her community-centered vision into practice will be De La Rosa’s goal as a new judge.
Preparing for 2028 election
While she just won in 2022, De La Rosa has to keep the next election in mind already. In 2028 she will be up for reelection for a full 6-year term. To build a strong record for voters, De La Rosa must deliver on her promises of innovation and compassion. She will need to diligently apply her perspectives as a woman, immigrant, and prosecutor. De La Rosa should also avoid major missteps or controversies. If she steadily cultivates her judicial identity, De La Rosa can make a compelling case to retain her seat. But she must use her first term wisely to convince voters.
The competitive 2022 primary election between Lissette De La Rosa and Jeffrey Kolokoff represented local democracy in action. Voters had the opportunity to assess an incumbent’s track record and call for change if they found it wanting. De La Rosa prevailed on her message of new directions for the county court. Now she faces high expectations as she works to back up her vision. While Kolokoff lost this round, his years of judicial service still demonstrate the dedication that Miami’s judges apply each day, whether facing reelection or not. Going forward, Miami’s citizens will continue benefiting from engaged, qualified candidates like De La Rosa and Kolokoff who commit to guiding this vital trial court. They ensure justice is served for their community.
What was the final vote margin between De La Rosa and Kolokoff?
De La Rosa defeated Kolokoff by around 5,000 votes out of 259,000 cast. She won 50.9% to Kolokoff’s 49.1% – a close victory in the end for the challenger.
How much campaign money did each candidate raise?
Kolokoff significantly outraised De La Rosa, taking in over $200,000 to her $27,000. Despite this financial disadvantage, grassroots outreach still enabled her upset.
What criticisms faced Kolokoff regarding his time as judge?
Kolokoff was criticized for an improper intervention in a case involving his wife’s former law partner. He also faced complaints of demeaning and culturally insensitive treatment of defendants.
What are some of De La Rosa’s priorities for reforming the county court?
De La Rosa wants to improve language access, assist self-represented litigants, expand diversion programs, and ensure cultural awareness among court staff.
How can De La Rosa build a strong record before facing reelection in 2028?
She must follow through on reforms like improved translation services and compassionate treatment of defendants. Avoiding scandals or major controversies will also bolster De La Rosa’s standing with voters for 2028.