Oct 4, 2018

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judges

Posted By Nadia Pazos
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gavel with seal of the state of Florida

When your case goes to trial, you’ll be assigned a judge. In the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida in Miami, you may be assigned one of 14 Family Division judges or 8 magistrates in the Family Division. Circuit Court judges are appointed or elected, serving six-year terms before they must be reelected.

What’s the difference between a circuit judge and a magistrate?

A general magistrate is called in to help handle the large caseload of the circuit court judges. Magistrates look and act like judges in the course of your case, but instead of rendering orders, a magistrate will write a report and make recommendations to a circuit court judge. In chambers, that circuit court judge hears those reports and recommendations and normally adopts them by signing them and making them official.

If your case is assigned to a general magistrate, you and your attorney have the power to object and be put on a circuit judge’s schedule instead. Of course, because of the heavy caseload that the Miami circuit court judges face, that may cause a delay in your case. You should speak with your attorney to determine what the best course of action is for your case, as there’s an element of legal strategy about who to choose and how that will affect your budget and timeline.

What is an administrative judge or magistrate?

You may notice that a few of the judges and magistrates have administrative or associate administrative title. That title essentially means that those judges are responsible for the operation of the court.

Miami Circuit Court Judge Biographies

Scott Bernstein (FC 28): Judge Bernstein received his law degree from the University of Florida and has been practicing law since 1983. He became a judge in the 11th Circuit in 1998.

Valerie R. Manno Schurr (FC 17): Judge Manno Schurr graduated with her JD from the University of Miami and has been practicing in Florida since 1993. She was a civil trial lawyer before joining the 11th Circuit Court in 2006.

Ivonne Cuesta (FC 01): Judge Cuesta received her law degree from Nova Southeastern University. She was a county court judge in Miami-Dade County before becoming a circuit court judge, and before that was a public defender. She has also served in the civil division of the 11th Circuit.

Marcia Del Rey (FC 29): A former family law attorney and owner of her own family law firm, Judge Del Ray received her JD from Florida International University. She was elected to the 11th Circuit in 2016.

Maria Espinosa Dennis (FC 07): Born in Cuba, Judge Dennis received her law degree from the University of Miami and has been practicing law in Florida since 1985. Judge Dennis is a former assistant state’s attorney and was elected to the court in 2000.

Ariana Fajardo Orshan (FC 02): Appointed in 2012, Judge Orshan received her law degree from Nova Southeastern University. Before becoming a circuit court judge, Orshan was an assistant state’s attorney and worked in private practice. She has also served in the criminal division of the 11th circuit.

Monica Gordo (FC 38): Judge Gordo graduated with her law degree from the University of Miami and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1999. Before becoming a Circuit Court judge, where she also served in the criminal division, she was a part of the Miami-Dade State Attorne’s office as a special prosecutor on the Gang Strike Force.

Samantha Ruiz Cohen (FC 33): Judge Cohen was elected in 2010 to the 11th Circuit and received her JD from Hofstra University and has been practicing in Florida since 1992. Before becoming a circuit court judge, Cohen worked at the state attorney’s office and was an adjunct professor at Florida International University. She previously served in the criminal division of the 11th Circuit.

Migna Sanchez-Llorens (FC 39): Judge Sanchez-Llorens was a banker before moving to law and graduated with her law degree from New York University. She worked as an assistant public defender at the state and federal levels for more than 13 years, and was elected to the 11th Circuit Court in 2008. Sanchez-Llorens also served in the criminal division of the 11th Circuit.

George A. Sarduy (FC 16): Judge Sarduy received his law degree from Florida State University. He was appointed to the Miami-Dade County Court in 2006 and joined the 11th Circuit Court in 2008.

Bernard S. Shapiro (FC 18): Judge Shapiro earned his JD from the University of Miami and joined the 11th Circuit Court in 1991. Before that, he had been a judge in the Dade County Court in 1987 after a career built in private practice. Shapiro previously served in the probate division of the 11th Circuit.

Bertila Soto (FC 14): Judge Soto was appointed to the 11th Circuit in 2002 to replace Steven Levine. She earned her JD from the University of Miami, worked in the state’s attorney’s office and as a judge in the Miami-Dade County Court from 1997 to 2002. She currently serves at the Chief Judge of the 11th Circuit Court.

Maria Elena Verde (FC 47): Judge Verde received her JD from St. Thomas University. Before joining the 11th Circuit Court in 2012, she worked as an assistant state attorney and defense attorney. Verde previously served in the criminal division of the 11th Circuit.

David Young (FC 12): Judge Young earned his JD from the University of Miami and worked under Janet Reno as an assistant state attorney. He was elected to the Miami-Dade judiciary, but resigned to host his own syndicated legal show from 2007 to 2009. In 2016, Young was elected to the 11th Circuit Court in Miami.

Angelica D. Zayas (FC 26): Judge Zayas was appointed in 2011 to replace a retiring judge. She received her JD from the University of Miami and worked as an assistant state attorney and as an assistant attorney general in the Miami Attorney General’s office.

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