In strong two-person Broward judge race, Angione excels | Endorsem*nt (2024)

In some cases, our review of candidates reveals there’s one clear choice. Other times, it’s a close call.

For an open seat in Broward County Court Group 16 featuring two highly experienced lawyers, voters can decide with pride, because both candidates appear highly qualified. All voters can vote in all circuit court and county court judicial races in the Aug. 20 primary election.

On balance, we give the edge in Group 16 to Pompano Beach lawyer Kathleen Angione, based on her experience in a quasi-judicial position, her extensive experience in county courtrooms and a temperament that we believe would be a better fit in what’s known as “the people’s court.”

“I was born with a natural temperament,” Angione said in an online Sun Sentinel interview.

In ‘the people’s court’

County Court is the province of minor crimes involving personal injury and property damage, criminal misdemeanors such as driving under the influence, small claims of up to $50,000, landlord-tenant disputes, and domestic violence injunctions — as opposed to the serious felonies, capital crimes and complex civil litigation in Circuit Court.

In 2022-23, the most recent year available, 247,619 cases were filed in the Broward County court system, more than half of which involved traffic infractions.

For many people, County Court is their first interaction with the judicial system. In civil court, many people don’t have a lawyer because they can’t afford one, so they represent themselves.

In a Sun Sentinel interview, Angione demonstrated patience and understanding, tempered with adherence to the law that’s needed of somebody who must help unrepresented pro se litigants navigate the judicial system without giving legal advice, which judges cannot do.

“I am an active and enthusiastic listener,” Angione wrote in her Sun Sentinel questionnaire. “I generally enjoy working with people, and care about how my decisions will affect their lives. I believe everyone should be heard, be treated fairly, and have equal access to our judicial system.”

Over a legal career spanning a quarter century, Angione, 54, a native of Chicago, has practiced in the county, circuit and appellate courts and served as a guardian ad litem. She has appeared before judges in most if not all of Florida’s 67 counties, and made oral arguments in two appellate courts.

‘We talk to them … ‘

She appears regularly in county court where many litigants are from other countries, are scared, don’t comprehend the U.S. justice system and do not speak English.

“We talk to them. We calm them, and then we get into the merits of the case with them,” Angione said. “We try to get family members on the phone who can interpret for them … There’s lots of layers to transparency.”

Her quasi-judicial experience as a hearing officer for the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, an unpaid position she has held for almost four years, gives her another advantage her opponent lacks.

Angione’s opponent, Joseph Zager, has a similar resume. Both attorneys are Nova law graduates who have practiced for 25 years.

Zager 53, of Davie, has spent much of his career as a prosecutor, serving as an assistant state attorney from 1999 to 2002 and again from 2006 to 2016. He now practices criminal law and family law.

While he has civil court experience, it is overshadowed by his criminal defense work. This and his reasons for being a judge — “a deep-seated commitment to upholding the fundamental principles of justice,” as he wrote in his questionnaire — suggest to us that he might be better suited to deciding criminal cases in circuit court.

Campaign finance reports offer some clues to the candidates’ support in the legal community.

Angione has raised more than $80,000, $75,000 of which came from a personal loan. Zager has raised almost $50,000 and $35,000 of it came from his own pocket.

Judges often self-finance their campaigns, as they are restricted by judicial ethics on how they can raise money.

Our endorsed candidate appears on the ballot as Kathleen “Kathie” Elaine Angione. Her opponent will appear as Joseph “Joe” Zager.

Whoever wins the Aug. 20 election wins a six-year term for a position that pays $186,034 a year.

Broward voters would be well-served by either candidate, but we believe that Angione’s temperament and experience are better suited to County Court.

For Broward County Court Judge Group 16, the Sun Sentinel recommends Kathleen Angione.

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Opinion Editor Dan Sweeney, editorial writers Pat Beall and Martin Dyckman, and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members. To contact us, email letters@sun-sentinel.com.

In strong two-person Broward judge race, Angione excels | Endorsem*nt (2024)

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