Judicial Excellence Awards
- 2017 Circuit Court Judge Peter R. Ramsberger
- 2017 County Court Judge Carroll J. Kelly
- 2016 Circuit Court Judge Stanford Blake
- 2016 County Court Judge Robert W. Lee
- 2015 Circuit Court Judge Lee Haworth
- 2015 County Court Judge Steven Leifman
2017 Award Recipients
Judge Peter R. Ramsberger, Sixth Judicial Circuit, Receives the Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence
Judge Peter Ramsberger, Sixth Judicial Circuit
“Intelligent, fair, concerned, and hard worker”—these words and their equivalents appear persistently in the letters supporting the nomination of Judge Peter R. Ramsberger for the Award for Judicial Excellence. Elected to the Pinellas County bench in 1990 and appointed to the Sixth Circuit in 1997, Judge Ramsberger is extolled for being “an outstanding scholar, leader, and teacher” who “has “impeccable integrity, is very knowledgeable…and works well with others.” His “relentless pursuit of excellence” is universally admired.
Judge Ramsberger’s accomplishments are indeed extensive and consequential, but his supporters are particularly fervent about three of his attributes: his commitment to judicial education, his efforts to improve the courts system’s domestic violence services, and his demeanor.
Judge Ramsberger’s devotion to judicial education began to take root soon after he took the bench: within a year of being sworn in, he enrolled in a faculty training seminar, a two-day education program that teaches prospective judicial educators about planning a successful course founded on education principles (participating in this seminar is a pre-requisite for teaching in most of the courts system’s education programs). Since then, “He has created, prepared, researched, revised, updated, and presented more judicial education programs than any other judge in the State of Florida, having taught at least 100 judicial education programs throughout his career,” the nomination letter states. In short, “He cares about the educational product, he cares about his colleagues and he cares about the entire Florida legal system.” As a result, “He is widely regarded as one of the finest judicial education presenters and consistently receives rave reviews.” As one of the support letters notes, “Nationally and internationally, the Florida judiciary has a unique tradition of excellence in judicial education. No other state offers the quality and breadth of training offered by Florida judges. Judge Ramsberger is one of the best of the best.”
His dedication to judicial education also includes his recruitment and mentoring of new judicial faculty, and many letter writers call attention to this “labor of love.” One writes, “I have seen the countless hours and the outstanding effort that Judge Ramsberger has put into recruiting faculty, inspiring the faculty to develop a meaningful and complete curriculum, and then facilitating and teaching the track….He is tireless in his efforts to inspire those teaching with him to go ‘above and beyond’: he leads by example and with great humor and patience.”
For his dedication to improving court processes, especially those associated with domestic violence, Judge Ramsberger is also esteemed. One letter writer remarks on the “indelible imprint” he makes on judges regarding the handling of domestic violence cases. She singles out the two-day Regional Domestic Violence Trainings Judge Ramsberger co-created and has been conducting around the state, saying, “His influence on [the judges attending this program] is profound. They come back from the training with Judge Ramsberger with new insights and new vigor for handling some of the most difficult cases we have in the court system, and they are so impressed with Judge Ramsberger’s knowledge, intellectual courage, and passion for seeing that justice is provided to some of the court system’s most vulnerable clients: those families and children impacted by domestic violence in their homes. Judge Ramsberger’s impact on judges who handle domestic violence cases is extremely significant and, consequently, he has significantly impacted our judicial system for the better.”
The letters of support also call attention to Judge Ramsberger’s exceptional deportment—particularly his inclusiveness, his self-deprecating humor, and his humility: “He inspires with a calm demeanor and an ever present sense of humor”; “His self-deprecating sense of humor and ability to include others is a great gift in the education of judges”; “He is someone who does not seek recognition for what he does. He supports others to achieve judicial excellence, and he does so with great self-deprecation and humor”; “He has put in many, many hours of service to the branch in various educational programs, and he has done it all with humor and humility”; and “He also possesses the unusual trait of humbleness. He works tirelessly and always deflects praise to others. This is a rare quality in our profession that deserves special mention.”
As the letters of support demonstrate, Judge Ramsberger has truly “earned the respect and confidence of his colleagues.” They are not exaggerating when they say that he “fully personifies judicial excellence and has demonstrated exceptional commitment to the judicial branch in the State of Florida.”
By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer
(posted July, 24, 2017) / Return to top of page
Chief Justice Labarga with Award for Judicial Excellence recipient, Judge Carroll Kelly, Miami-Dade County.
Appointed to the Miami-Dade bench in 1999, Judge Carroll J. Kelly is esteemed for “lead[ing] by example from the bench, treating all parties with the utmost respect and dignity while simultaneously being compassionate and fair.” Letters supporting her nomination say that “She epitomizes the very qualities that every trial judge should emulate” and that “She is a model for all judges to aspire to”: indeed, another letter writer asserts, “Her accomplishments, dedication and professionalism should serve as an example to all judges throughout the State of Florida and the nation.” In particular, Judge Kelly is singled out for having “tirelessly…spent her entire judicial career as a leader, teacher and a mentor in combatting all forms of interpersonal violence and improving court responses to domestic violence.” As one letter writer proffers, “I would submit that every judge in the state of Florida well knows that Judge Kelly is the ‘guru’ on all matters pertaining to domestic violence.”
Judge Kelly’s accomplishments are far-ranging, but her achievements in two areas especially stand out: her innovative efforts “to improve the community, the court system…and the lives of the individuals” affected by domestic violence and her “extensive and selfless devotion toward judicial education.”
Judge Carroll J. Kelly, Miami-Dade County
Since her appointment in 1999, Judge Kelly has served in the Miami-Dade County Domestic Violence Division, which handles approximately 12,000 domestic, sexual, dating, stalking, and repeat violence injunctions, as well as thousands of DV criminal cases, each year. She has been the administrative judge of this division since 2009. Over the years—in addition to managing her caseload and overseeing 11 judges as well as hundreds of court personnel working in four separate courthouses in the county—Judge Kelly has written grants to bring thousands of dollars into the community for DV projects; secured and trained advocates to assist each victim of DV; helped to coordinate—and trains attorneys to participate in—a pro bono program that represents children in families unsettled by DV; worked with mental health professionals to institute a program that provides wrap-around services to families whose lives have been touched by DV; created protocols and contracts for batterers intervention programs to uphold quality programming and oversight; instituted and presides over DV compliance calendars to ensure batterers meet the requirements of court-ordered programs; instituted the use of GPS devices as a condition of release in DV criminal cases; and created various education programs and resources to help DV litigants understand the cycle of violence and how the court can help them. These are just some of the manifold innovations Judge Kelly has developed and implemented to improve the ways in which the court responds to families affected by domestic violence. “Under her leadership, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit’s DV Court has been named a model domestic violence court in the United States,” one letter writer remarks.
Letter writers also praise Judge Kelly for her commitment to judicial education. She is a long-standing faculty member of the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida, the Florida College of Advanced Judicial Studies, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. She also serves on the faculty of the Florida Judicial College, where, for the last 16 years, she has taught all new Florida judges domestic/sexual violence law and procedure. In addition, in 2014, under the auspices of the Florida Institute on Interpersonal Violence, she co-created a two-phase Regional DV Training for Florida judges, with the goal of enhancing statewide consistency and uniformity in the handling of DV cases: more than 170 judges have already participated in the first phase, which has been offered in 11 locations, and the second phase, which was recently introduced, has trained 41 judges so far. As the nomination letter stresses, Judge Kelly “created and presents these programs because she is passionate about judges being informed about DV and ensuring these crimes are taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.”
The letters of support all emphasize Judge Kelly’s distinction and singularity: “I do not know of any judge who gives more of themselves to the public and legal community,” states one judge; says another, “She deserves this recognition more than anyone I know”; and another underscores that, “While many judges are deserving, I believe no judge is more deserving than Judge Kelly.” To read more about the accomplishments of Judge Kelly, whom one letter writer calls a “true champion and hero for Florida,” please take this link to the press release.
Read more about a recent Florida Institute on Interpersonal Violence training involving Judge Kelly.
By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer
(posted July, 11 2017) / Return to top of page
2016 Award Recipients
Judge Stanford Blake
The Chief Justice Awards for Judicial Excellence, established in 2015, recognize one county court judge and one circuit court judge who demonstrate exceptional commitment to the judicial branch and who personify judicial excellence, embodying qualities such as strength of character, integrity, fairness, open-mindedness, knowledge of the law, sound judgment, professional ethics, intellectual courage, compassion, and decisiveness. These prestigious awards are presented by the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court at the annual education programs for each level of the trial court. At this year’s Annual Education Program of the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges, Chief Justice Labarga presented the 2016 Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence to Judge Stanford Blake, Eleventh Circuit. (Broward County Court Judge Robert W. Lee received the Award for Judicial Excellence at the Annual Education Program of the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida in July.)
Judge Blake was appointed to the Eleventh Circuit Bench in 1995. Letters supporting his nomination for this award praise him for his “fairness and efficiency” and for his “genuine compassion for the people and parties that appear before him.” They commend his “rare mix of humor, intelligence, courage and diplomacy” and call him “a man of stature, a man of compassion, of a strong ethical and moral compass and one who has a unique understanding of the human condition.” And they appreciate him for having “improved our court system, our community and our world.” Judge Blake is widely acclaimed both for his efforts to “advance the highest ideals of justice” and for his service outside the justice system, “as a member of the larger community.”
As a jurist, Judge Blake has consistently been a teacher, mentor, and role model for many of his circuit colleagues. In many ways, he is the consummate judicial resource: when his fellow judges seek advice and assistance on issues of procedure and substance, they go to Judge Blake, whom they call “a judge’s judge” and their “go-to judge.” But Judge Blake is also admired for his efforts to improve the justice system outside his circuit. For instance, his colleagues appreciate his many years as a judicial leader and educator: he served on the executive board of the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges (20 years) and has been a faculty member for the Florida Judicial College (20 years) and the College of Advanced Judicial Studies (10 years), and he has taught numerous courses for the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges.
Moreover, he is committed to sharing his knowledge and expertise with future lawyers: he has taught litigation skills at the University of Miami Law School (18 years), “helping law students hone their skills and nurturing the ideals of professionalism as they prepare to enter the practice of law.” And the lawyers who appear before him also appreciate his knowledge of the law and procedure—and his courtroom demeanor: “His reputation in the legal community for fairness and diligence ranks him among the very finest trial judges in the State of Florida”—indeed, he “is always the top rated judge in the local judicial bar polls,” the letters of support disclose.
In addition to serving the justice system with the highest distinction, Judge Blake generously shares his time and energy with numerous civic organizations, among them, the Haven School for the Developmentally Disadvantaged, the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club, and the Transplant Foundation (he even donated one of his kidneys to his brother in 1996).
As several letters of support emphasize, Judge Blake’s “contributions have been made without any desire or expectation of recognition. This is the truest measure of an outstanding public servant—to find reward in the very act of service.” To read more about Judge Blake’s accomplishments, please follow this link to the press release.
Judge Lee (L) receives award from Chief Justice Labarga with PK Jameson, State Courts Administrator.
The Chief Justice Awards for Judicial Excellence, established in 2015, recognize one county court judge and one circuit court judge who demonstrate exceptional commitment to the judicial branch and who personify judicial excellence, embodying qualities such as strength of character, integrity, fairness, open-mindedness, knowledge of the law, sound judgment, professional ethics, intellectual courage, compassion, and decisiveness. These prestigious awards are presented by the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court at the annual education programs for each level of the trial court. At this year’s Conference of County Court Judges of Florida, Chief Justice Labarga presented the 2016 Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence to Judge Robert W. Lee, Broward County. (The circuit judge receiving the Award for Judicial Excellence will be honored in August, at the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges.)
Appointed to the Broward County bench in 1997, Judge Lee is called “a dedicated individual who has worked tirelessly towards improving our legal system and educating the public that he serves.” Judge Lee’s accomplishments are indeed far-ranging, but his achievements in two areas especially stand out: he has authored numerous informational and educational guides to support the work of his fellow judicial and quasi-judicial officers, and he has created several innovative court programs.
A prolific author, Judge Lee conceived and regularly compiles the Florida Small Claims Rules Annotated, which provides comprehensive summaries of every reported case to date involving each Small Claims Rule. Now in its fifth edition, this document is made available without charge to county court judges, law libraries, and attorneys affiliated with the Small Claims Committee of The Florida Bar; it is also posted on the Florida Bar and the flcourts websites. Judge Lee also drafts the annual Civil Traffic Infraction Case Law Update; now in its eighth year, this indexed update is made available to judges and civil traffic hearing officers who attend the annual DUI Traffic Adjudication School. In addition, he just completed the Judge's Guide to Florida PIP Discovery for presentation at the 2016 Conference of County Court Judges of Florida.
Judge Lee has also devised various court initiatives and programs to improve the administration of justice. Most notably, in 2013, he instituted the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit’s Teen Traffic Court, a unique program that focuses on education over punishment in an effort to improve teen behavior. For teens who participate in Teen Traffic Court, the consequences, which are designed to reflect their age and the nature of their infraction, fall within a wide range: they may be required to pay a fine, attend a driving course in person rather than taking it online, attend traffic school, perform community service, abide by a curfew, and/or write essays or letters of apology. So far, more than 1,500 teens have successfully completed the program, which is now in its second year. In addition, as a Jury Qualifying Judge for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Judge Lee designed a program to increase juror yield by holding jury duty scofflaws accountable.
Judge Lee is also a judicial mentor, a Judicial Management Council member, the Civil Division Chair, a faculty member of the Florida Judicial College, and the chair of the Education Committee of the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida. He is described as “always trying to make things better, not only for his colleagues, but for the legal system and public as well.” And as his nomination letter states, “He does all of the above quietly, without any expectation of or need for recognition.” To read more about Judge Lee’s accomplishments, please follow this link to the press release.
2015 Award Recipients
Judge Haworth (L) receives award from Chief Justice Labarga.
Judge Lee Haworth, Twelfth Judicial Circuit, was presented with a newly-established Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence
“Judge Haworth embodies judicial excellence,” the nomination letter began, calling particular attention to his “integrity, innovation, sound judgment, ethics, courage, and compassion.” Judge Haworth’s accomplishments are indeed far-ranging, but his achievements in two areas especially stand out: his innovations in addressing the foreclosure crisis and his efforts to improve the lives of children.
Judge Haworth, who was elected to the Twelfth Circuit Bench in 1989 and will be retiring at the end of August 2015, was serving as chief judge when the foreclosure crisis began sweeping through Florida. Seeing the foreclosure caseload begin to mushroom in his circuit, in December 2008, he implemented the Homestead Conciliation Program, which established a process for giving homeowners a court-ordered chance to work out a solution with lenders; for this, he was praised for having “gotten out in front of this issue way ahead of everyone else.” Then in late 2009, he was called to serve on the supreme court’s Task Force on Residential Foreclosure Cases, which was established to respond on an emergency basis to the residential mortgage foreclosure crisis in Florida; the managed mediation process Judge Haworth had established in his circuit became the model for the state.
Judge Haworth is perhaps most widely known for his efforts to improve the lives of children who come in contact with the courts. In addition to serving on the supreme court’s Steering Committee on Families and Children in the court, he spearheaded initiatives that improve safety for foster care children and has worked extensively with his circuit’s Family Guardian Ad Litem Program. In 2000, he was “recognized for outstanding child advocacy by the Supreme Court and the Governor of the State of Florida for [his] dedication to abused and neglected children and service to the Guardian ad Litem Program.”
Judge Haworth also established his circuit’s Courts Assisting Veterans Program and played an important role in the development of an interactive application that enables judges to view and work on electronic court records—an application that judges in nearly 40 Florida counties now use. To read more about Judge Haworth’s accomplishments, please follow this link to the press release
By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer
Judge Steven Leifman, Miami-Dade County, was presented with a newly-established Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence
Soon after his appointment to the Miami-Dade County bench in 1995, Judge Leifman discovered that his legal and judicial training left him poorly-prepared for the people with serious and persistent mental illnesses who were re-appearing in his courtroom repeatedly and often. Throughout his two decades on the bench, he has devoted an exceptional amount of time and effort to identifying, promoting, and implementing innovative ways to address this community, state, and national problem. In 2000, for instance, he created the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Mental Health Project, which diverts people with mental illnesses who do not pose significant public safety risks into community-based treatment and support programs; since then, approximately 4,000 people with mental illnesses have been diverted from the Miami-Dade County Jail, and the recidivism rate for people charged with a felony who successfully complete the program is just 6 percent.
Judge Steve Leifman, Miami-Dade County
Judge Leifman has also been involved in developing the country’s largest Crisis Intervention Team Training Program; more than 4,400 law enforcement officers in Miami-Dade County have been trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and to respond more effectively and appropriately to people in psychiatric crisis. In the last four years, officers with Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami who have been trained in the this program have responded to approximately 35,000 calls: nearly 8,000 people were diverted into community treatment rather than being arrested, and only 85 arrests were made.
Judge Leifman also participated on a national advisory board that developed three benchbooks to assist judges in responding more effectively to defendants with mental illnesses, and he has helped to influence statewide policy through his tireless legislative advocacy. To learn about other ways in which Judge Leifman has worked to reform fundamentally the criminal justice and mental health systems in Miami-Dade County, please follow this link to the press release.
By Beth C. Schwartz, Court Publications Writer