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Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Scott Bernstein becomes chair-elect of Florida Conference of Circuit Judges

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Scott Bernstein on Monday became chair-elect of the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges.

Bernstein, 54, defeated Orange County Circuit Court Judge Fred Lauten, 61.

From Miami Beach attorney Elizabeth Schwartz, co-chair of the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Association:

Bernstein, an openly gay jurist, presides over Miami's Family Court as associate administrative judge. He will lead the organization, which provides training and education for the 599 Circuit Judges in the state of Florida and advocates for court funding and judicial administration.

Judge Bernstein becomes the only openly gay person to lead a statewide organization of judges. After his victory, Bernstein stated, "I am excited to serve the public in yet another role."

I began covering Bernstein 16 years ago, when he first ran for circuit court. Here's my July 1998 profile of Bernstein and his partner, former Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Young.

GAY JUDGES: JUDGE US NOT BY SEXUALITY BUT QUALIFICATIONS

BY STEVE ROTHAUS
srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Fall elections are approaching and gay political activists in Miami-Dade and Broward counties are busy supporting (and raising money for) their favorite candidates.

Dade ActionPac already has endorsed two openly gay candidates for judicial seats in Miami-Dade County: County Judge Victoria Sigler, who is running for re-election and Scott Bernstein, a civil-trial lawyer who hopes to become a Circuit Court judge.

Sigler made history four years ago when she became the first openly gay or lesbian person elected a judge in Florida, according to Dade ActionPac.

"She is truly an outstanding role model and judge, " according to the PAC's endorsement.

Sigler paved the way for other openly gay judges to serve in Florida: Mark King Leban became a Dade County judge in 1995; last year, Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed Robert Lee a Broward County judge.

"Scott Bernstein is trying to accomplish on the Circuit Court level what Victoria Sigler has on the County Court, " Dade ActionPac says, "to become the first openly gay or lesbian person to be elected a Circuit Court judge."

Bernstein, 38, says sexuality has nothing to do with being a good judge.

"I see it as a nonissue, " Bernstein says. "The community is mature enough to not think of that issue, but to think of the most qualified for the job . . . I don't go up to anybody and say, 'Vote for me because of this, that or the other thing.' I say, 'Vote for me because I'm qualified.' "

Still, if Bernstein is asked about being gay, he tells.

"Judges are not supposed to lie. No politician is supposed to lie, " he says. "I'm not sure that telling the truth -- how can that hurt? Isn't the lesson you learn from childhood that honesty is the best policy? There are people in this county who are not going to vote for me because I'm Jewish. There is nothing I can do about that. I'm not going to not say I'm Jewish.

"I'm not doing anything to prove a point. I'm not doing this to show people this can be done, " Bernstein says. "I have a genuine interest to improve the society in which we live."

Bernstein has spent nearly his entire life in South Florida. He graduated from Palmetto High in 1977, attended undergraduate school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and law school at University of Florida.

About three years ago, Bernstein met Dade County Judge David Young at a law firm party and the two began to date. They have lived together for 2-1/2 years.

Young, 39, a former prosecutor and private criminal-trial lawyer, was elected to the bench in 1992. He now is a Dade Juvenile judge. Young says a person's sexuality "is irrelevant to being a judge.

"You want to be a role model, not just to a selected group. Judges should be role models for the entire community. Models for hard work and education.

"We have an obligation, all judges, to be involved in the community: Speaking before groups, especially in schools, is a wonderful way of getting the message across about right and wrong."

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