by Vanessa Woodard Byers
Today we have the privilege of talking with Judge Teretha Lundy Thomas, a 19-year veteran as a judge. This year she drew a challenger for the first time after several uncontested re-elections. Judge Thomas is a candidate for re-election to the County Court Judge Group 33 seat.
VWB: First of all, Judge Thomas, thank you for carving time out of your busy schedule for this conversation that we’re sharing with the readers of Blogging Black Miami. We respect your judicial calendar as well as your campaign and personal calendar so we’ll get right to it. Tell us a little about yourself.
TLT: Thank you for this opportunity. I am a native Miamian who loves her city. Many close friends left to go to college and did not return. Many close friends left to go to work or retire in Washington D.C. and Atlanta. That was never my desire. I always wanted to stay here and try to make a difference. I want my son and the other sons and daughters of this community to have a future in Miami.
VWB: What led you to become a judge?
TLT: In the spring of 1992, shortly after the Rodney King acquittals, a colleague called me up very early one Saturday morning (it was so early that we were still in bed) and said "you should run for judge, because we need black judges on the bench." My response was that I didn't have any money to run a county wide race. Her immediate response was that I will help you raise the money and you are qualified. With that she had me. I knew that I was qualified and had the necessary experience. Several other members of the legal community such as Attorney Osvaldo Soto, Chairman Emeritus of S.A.L.A.D. and Former Miami City Attorney Lucia Dougherty had also previously suggested that I become a judge but because of the money issue it just seemed like a mission impossible.
VWB: What a perfect example of stepping out on faith. You were qualified and had the support team to make it happen. Awesome. Was that your greatest accomplishment in your legal career?
TLT: The highlights of my legal and professional career are becoming the first full-time City Attorney for the City of Opa-locka, being the first African-American female City Attorney in the State of Florida, becoming a judge, being the first African-American woman to win a countywide judicial election in Miami-Dade County, becoming the first African-American woman to be appointed as an Administrative Judge in Miami-Dade County, and being named Member of the Year by the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association. Professionally, I think my involvement in the Black Lawyers Association k/n/a the Wilkie Ferguson Bar Association and my involvement in the political campaigns of Senator Bob Graham, Judge Leah Simms and Commissioner Arthur E. Teele, Jr. and the wonderful lifelong friendships and camraderie that followed, let to great personal growth.
VWB: Wow, that’s epic as the young people would say. It’s also a bit sad that as young as you are, there were still so many “firsts” for you to accomplish. It really puts civil rights in this country in perspective. With your plethora of legal experience, how would you describe your judicial philosophy?
TLT: On the bench my goal is to be fair to both sides and to be a great listener. Especially in County Court, the "People's Court", many who appear in front of me are there simply because someone was not listening to the person who wanted to be heard.
VWB: That is a great way to frame the situation. In your own words, why should the voters elect you to continue as County Court Judge?
TLT: Based on my experience and the quality of my work on the bench, the voters of Miami-Dade County should select #101 on August 14th. I have served this community with honor and with integrity and my record is unblemished. Miami-Dade County is a diverse community and we need a diverse judiciary.
VWB: The controversial back story in your race is that you are the lone black female judge in the 11th judicial circuit and you’ve drawn a Hispanic challenger. The tendency of voters to vote along ethnic lines makes you an easy target. What would you like to say to that?
TLT: I would say that once again we have been underestimated. I have received broad support from all segments of our wonderfully diverse community. Many people from all over the County are outraged that I have been targeted for the wrong reasons. With tangible and visible support, they are making it known that victory will be ours on August 14th.
VWB: For the record, Judge, we did reach out to your challenger, Attorney John Rodriguez, for a response regarding the ethnic controversy in this race but have not received a response.
Our final question. What advice do you have for anyone interested in a career in the legal profession?
TLT: If you are interested in becoming a member of the legal profession, study hard, read as much as you can, and live a responsible and honorable life that you can be proud of.
VWB: Thank you again, Judge Thomas. We wish you the best on August 14 and beyond.