Judge Stan Blake is on “First Off, Let’s Kill All The Lawyers” with David Heffernan

On Behalf of | Jun 28, 2021 | Podcasts

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Welcome to another episode of First off, let’s kill all the lawyers. I am extraordinarily excited this morning with the guests that I have on and, you know, we open the show with Let’s kill all the lawyers because it’s a 15 century phrase from Shakespeare, that often gets misquoted. But the problem is a lot of people still today quoted and think that’s not a bad idea. You know, we could wipe these guys out. But I can tell you this, this is a lawyer, that I guarantee is not on anybody’s kill list. My only concern this morning with my guest is that I’ve only got about 30 minutes and if I read all of the accolades about this man, my friend, it may take more than 30 minutes. My guest this morning, and I’m gonna tell you a little bit about him and let’s bring him in is is Stan Blake, who was a circuit court judge here in Miami for 22 years, was in private practice in Miami was a public defender in Miami. But I have to touch on something Stan before we start because I do have to give you some props. Go ahead. He honors his man when he served for 22 years. Judge William hold Hudler Lifetime Achievement Award by the Dade County Bar outstanding jurists award American academy of matrimonial lawyers, the Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice award for judicial excellence. The Florida conference of circuit judges chair award, Justice Gerald Cogan, judicial distinction award judge Allen Schwartz, judicial Excellence Award, Judge Steve Levine award for fairness, integrity, and professionalism. The list goes on and on and on, including, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen. He had a rating of 99% of exceptional or qualified by the Florida Bar or by the Dade County Bar in a rating. I mean, in Stan, I can tell you, I’ve never had a great of a 99% on the three years together you did. Well, that’s true. Stan, how are you? I’m doing great, David, how you doing? I am wonderful. I’m not as wonderful as you because I’m here in beautiful South Florida, but it’s summertime. And it’s sticky and it’s hot. And I know you’re in beach mountain North Carolina, do a little bit of work, but getting a lot of golf.

Yeah, I mean, that’s nice. Zoom has been a terrific thing. I mean, you know, with my mediation practice, after I left the bench, you only wouldn’t be in person. But now with zoom. We have people I had someone the other day who was in Madrid and someone was in and Argentina on the same mediation, so no one’s falling around. And it’s great.

Now you’ve got international we’re gonna get to mediation because I want to talk about it. But let’s go back a little bit with you. What drew you into the practice of law and I know you started at the public defender’s office, but what was the appeal? And how’d you wind up getting into law?

Well, it’s funny, I started off with excuse because I went from Miami last going on McCain fan to but I went to the University of Florida. I started off in pre-dentistry. And after my third chemistry course, I said this is not going to work. So actually, I went through the College of Journalism major and advertising minor in political science and took a lot of law related courses. And while I had offers to go to New York, in the advertising industry, I didn’t want the insecurity of that profession where you’re on top of the world, you lose some big account, you’re taking your portfolio and you’re you’re looking for a new job. So I said, You know, I loved everything with law. I went to law school and loved it from the beginning. And then when I took a course as a law student to work with the public defender’s office, it’s just a such a rush you being a trial attorney, you know what it is? Sure. And then when you can see how you can help people and the difference you can really make in the world and people’s lives then gave me an opportunity to do something that most professions don’t realize it and that’s fantastic. But I got to diverge a little bit because there was also a family business that I I want to know how you couldn’t have gotten into that because it was my favorite stomping ground forever. But I know your family had ties to tobacco road.

Right. My father wrote it, it was called the Chantoclair at the time. He owned it from 1950 a year after it came down from Detroit sold in 1975. Now it was a blue-collar neighborhood, however, was the only five o’clock liquor license in Miami. So when they built the four bachelors if you want to enter three and have the Pressman from the Miami Herald, who’d walked across the river to get a shot of beer, it had people with tuxedos and boy gallons are looking for a martini So it’s really the place now when he saw that I was probably making some public defender 15 to 16,000 year, they sold it from what I understand five years ago, like $11 million. If I had known it was gonna be valuable. I probably wouldn’t be here right now with you, David, but I haven’t any regrets.

Well, I don’t know, you’d still be here because I would have known you because I’d have been hanging out a tobacco road. True. It’s, it’s funny because they’ve actually opened a place right down the street to tobacco road by Cush. And my son was telling me Actually, they’ve done a nice job of sort of honoring the history of what tobacco road was like, and trying to keep it as that type of establishment. So yeah, that’s what I heard. I haven’t had a chance to be there is the old riverway store right in the corner. Yes.

Yep. right on the corner. So. So you work as a public defender. For five or six years, you go into private practice, and I’m assuming your private practice was criminal defense work,

mostly was I mean, you know, I had other things from time to time, but actually, I bought a person who had been a judge who was appointed as a judge Maui tandridge, you may have remembered from I bought his practice along with Jeffers, they could be my teacher gables high. And, and he was a civil practice. So I tried some civil cases. Right off the bat. And then I said, Listen, my criminal practice took off. Jeff, you do the civil stuff on to the criminal, but I would get into both arenas.

Excellent, excellent. we transitioned from private practice to the bench where you have a long 22-year stint right now, how is it? Did you run for election? Were you appointed? How’d you wind up getting on the bench?

You know, when you sit there in court, and David being active trial attorneys sit there you watch. As you’re waiting for your case to be caught, you watch some judges, some who treat people with respect and some of the things that were anointed and come down from Mount Sinai. So I knew one day I wanted to do it. But then we had something in the early 90s called a courtroom in Miami where there were some judges who are taking bribes and giving Volans and granting motions for money. And when that broke, I haven’t gone to college in the 60s, we were all idealists. So I sat down with my wife and kids. I said, You know, I think when I move up my timetable, I know I want to go on the bench one day, I had one, one child who was getting ready to start college to have I said, the good news about news, good news. If I get on the bench, we’ll have more efficient vacation time, bad news, we can never afford to go anywhere. Again. I did not know how prophetic that was going to be or how pathetic the salary was in practice, but I back then if you were up for an employment, and you were appointed, you had to run the next time. I was up for an appointment, I knew is between myself and another person was already a county court judge. And so I there was a new secret. So I follow for that only in May before was not like they do now for two or three years. And I got a call from the governor’s general counsel that the other person got the appointment, I get the next one they know as roiling if I didn’t get I get appointed? Well, fortunately, I won with like 69% of the vote, and then never had opposition after that.

And I know that because it was a sort of an untethered run, because who in their right mind would run against you? Because you were truly and we read the accolades. But But you were respected for every aspect of it. I mean, from the judges you worked with, to the lawyers that were before you to haven’t even read stories of, you know, people you were sentencing, that were still respectful and grateful to you for being fair and impartial even though they were going to jail.

Yeah, that probably. I think pry was as good as it gets. I mean, one of the quick stories like that there’s a gentleman who was in his early 40s, he had been convicted of, I’ll remember what there was minimum mandatories. And I, the guidelines call me the seven center, like, I think, 2530 years, whatever it was, and it was, you know, something I had to do. So he said at the end, he says, Well, well, thank you judge. I So, Mr. Sun, so I just sent you what I have to do. And with your age, you’re probably not going to get out of jail until you’re close to 80 years of age. He says, No, no, thank you for that. He says, you know, from my record, I’ve been around a lot. And he says in trawl every day, when I came in from the court from jail, you asked how my nine was, you treated me the same as you treated the lawyers, the jurors, the first time I’ve ever been respected in the courtroom. So I’m thanking you for respecting me. I hope I get you out. Reverse on the pill. We all laughed. And he didn’t get my ass reversed on appeal. But, you know, that’s, you know, that’s how we should live as people. I mean, it really is a really hard. I didn’t have to go to law school to be respectful and be nice.

Right. Right. So let’s talk a little bit about because I think one of the things that people don’t understand, and I and I know it, because and, Stan, you’ve taught us for a long time as I have, but I know from students because they don’t quite understand when you hear about a circuit court judge, and people automatically think, Okay, well, a civil judge or criminal judge. But there’s several divisions that circuit court judges can sit in. And I know you’ve I know, you’ve been around to pretty much all of them at some point. How is that determined where judges get assigned, whether they’re in family law, whether they’re in criminal or whether they’re in civil?

Well, when you’re first get elected or appointed to the bench, it depends where there’s an opening. And usually, especially it used to be more in the past, but still, the civil is considered a better division to sit in or perhaps probate. So criminal was a juvenile were often the bottom feeders. For me going to criminal in the beginning was so comfortable, because I felt like I’ve been there my whole life, which I had been from the practice of law. And, and then after that, it depends on seniority. So every three years is rotation. And you can put in for a different seat. Now, if you’ve been in a certain division, and someone has never been there, they might be able to balance you depending on your seniority. So there’s good news. The bad news, good news is you have judges who you may not want to have, and they get rotated. But the bad news is, sometimes you have a judge who really understands your case, or is very good on a particular area of law. And a newbie comes in who’s never sat there and never experienced that. You’re trying to educate them. But I think for the most part it makes for more well rounded. I know for me as a judge, and but there’s pros and cons. That’s how it works.

Well, and I can tell you, that news circulates like wildfire among trial lawyers, when First off, there’s all the rumors, who’s rotating in and out. And then when it officially happens. It goes from every lawyer, because like you’re saying some of it. Oh, great. We got rid of that. Judge. Maybe I got a shot now to Oh, no, I’m in trouble now. Because we couldn’t finish it in front of that judge.

Yeah. And if it’s if the judges don’t like you know, the rotations coming up, you find excuses for continuances other emotions that drag the case on a little longer.

I know you’ve got a sort of soft spot in your heart for for criminal work. But in those rotations, did you have a preference of where you preferred presiding, whether that was, you know, in civil or criminal or, or even family, although I gotta imagine, family’s got to be rough.

You know, it’s funny, I am, I love the one that made criminals, the most exciting. I mean, you know, the daily the morning counter could be a two drink minimum that you would say was amazing. And, you know, some of my old cases that run day line, they still play a two or three in the morning. And people say, Oh, I saw you on TV. Well, I had a moustache and hair is darker and probably more of it. But criminal was just exciting. But family, you know, I’ve been married, divorced with three kids. So I got I got the emotions, I understand the importance of parents, co parenting, and with the kids are going through. So you really felt like you did something in that regard. And of course, in family court, there’s no jury, so you make all the decisions. Civil Court, I love because of the diversity of the issues you would have. And any morning on emotion County, you go from a foreclosure to a contract dispute to a personal injury to medical malpractice, to whatever and actually, that I it was a challenge for all the areas you had to really be knowledgeable on or make yourself eligible. And I love the challenge of being prepared. I loved when I would read over the 30 motions for the five minute motion calendar. Some colleagues might say, well, half of them don’t show up. I said, Yeah, but for the ones who do I want to write to do their case in five minutes. Or it’s funny when I first got to the civil bench. I mean, well, I knew the lawyers, they hadn’t been in front of me and family or criminal. And they would have what’s called special sets where there’s lots of issues, you set aside a two or three-hour block and they give you big fat binders. And I’d make a ruling for the first six months even if I ruled against them personally. So thank you. Again, what do you think they are against you? Thank you prepare. Thank you for having read one it gave you so they were all had their special things. Um, the toughest part of family is sometimes the emotional part where you’re trying to get through the motions to get to the answer last. And the toughest part of civil is when the attorneys weren’t prepared.

Right? Yeah, it cuts both ways the system works much better. When lawyers are prepared, judges are prepared. And it really does make a big difference when you come in. And you know, they’re the judges not looking at the motion for the first time that morning, having just woken up and you know, had gone through it. So you get some more pointed questions to say, Okay, I kind of get this, let’s talk about this aspect of it, though. Which really, really does make it more enjoyable for the lawyers, even if you do get rolled again.

At least, you know, your point has been heard, they consider that, you know, listen, there’s 50% winners or losers every day and what you’re rolling, but you did the best you can with what you got.

So we have a mutual friend, and I was corresponding back and forth, because I told him you were coming on. And I, I was asked to ask you about a court reporter who took down the phrase objection, irrelevant. But took it down, meaning something else?

Yes. Well, you know, when I was the administrative judge of Criminal Division, they want to put electronic court reporting in to save money and whatever well, being around the system forever. I like to have a court reporter there typing. If you have a sidebar, you’re kind of just joking. And they know when the fingers up or things like that. Well, there was a transcript I saw that had been and when these electronic things when they were trying them, then they would send them to wherever they have transcribed. I don’t know if it’s United States or Pakistan or wherever. But one of the transcripts I read, what had been said was objection, irrelevant. It was transcribe erection an elephant. It was that class. So that was one of the things which I think to help keep the most of the court reporters around and keep the electronics out of the courtroom, especially with jury selection, you know, the court reporter can see on the panel who’s talking the electronic is very, very difficult.

Yeah. Which, which, and and and I imagine, you know, as we’ve worked through the pandemic, court reporters have had issues because I know lawyers have of saying, well, they don’t want to witness to have a mask on because, again, you have to be able to read the face, you have to be able to look at them, a jury has got to be able to assess them. So you start doing these things behind mass. Pretty good argument to say that it’s not really being fair at that point,

I think, I think it’s a very fine argument mean, reading and body language and, you know, is important see how now what you hear but how it said and see what they’re doing is important. So I think at least the courtrooms system is trying to open up, of course, our courthouse to Miami is for the civil courthouse is disgraceful. I mean, it’s built in 1925. I guess we’re building a new one now, I guess will be that another two to three years. But so so some of the newer courthouses like in Palm Beach or or Broward, they can have more courtrooms. That will be where people will feel safe to go in there with the jurist, Miami Dade. Not as much. But you know, that’s one of the reasons we private mediating settlements, because people know it’s going to be a long time until the system’s up and running again.

Yeah, we’ve we’ve talked about it. And I look, I give a lot of credit to the Dade County judiciary, because I think they’ve done a really good job of staying on top of this, being able to move cases the best they can, under the circumstances, through the pandemic, and really adhering to guidelines to get it reopened. So I mean, I just think the judges have done a really, really nice job. And you’re right, I think lawyers now look at and say, we’re a couple years out, I mean, they’re trying to push that backlog, but it’s a long way getting down. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised that through the pandemic we’ve had as plaintiff’s lawyers, my fear was, hey, they’re not going to pay you anything, because they’ll just sit on it. And they’ll sit on their money for a couple years, because there’s no hammer out there. There’s no jury system out there. But we’ve had a lot of success with mediation, and now you’ve made the transition from a guy that kind of makes the rulings and controls everything to the mediator who now is really a facilitator. I mean, you you influence decisions, certainly but talk about that and and how you’ve been able to do and I can say it firsthand, because I’ve had the pleasure mediating cases with you how you’ve been so successful in transitioning into mediation.

Well, you know, however, listen, I was fortunate Live to 102 was sharpened till the end. So somehow I got her wiring, I got my father’s gift for gab, but my mother’s wiring for other things. And you know, when I went from being an advocate as a lawyer, and it’s funny I was elected September of 1994 take the big January of 95. But I had my own cases workouts, I’d be sitting in court watching the judge make rulings thinking, what would I do, but I realize I’m no longer the applicant. I’m now at the time the impartial judge, but I have to make the rulings. Then I realized as a mediator, I don’t rule anymore. Now, one of the reasons maybe I’m so busy is because some of former judges still think they’re making the rulings and they come in, they say this torture then but it’s a process of mediation. And might be like sausage, if you knew I was made, you don’t want to eat it, right. But we might reach a settlement and went through a crazy thing, but it works out. But I think that the way I made their transition is I realized I now have a different position in the system. But I can still bring. I’ve been a lawyer and I’ll be 48 years this year. I know I started like 12 years old when I was Doogie Howser has any viewers can see Yeah,

I was doing the math between the time on the bench, you must be 107. But I’m not I’m not gonna call you out on 1612.

When I went to law school, I told you that, okay. So in any event, but I realized the difference that there would be as a mediator, but I, I give, you know, there are certain rules of mediation, you don’t come in and tell them what to do. It’s up to that person, then it’s not up to the attorneys, the attorneys, you know, give the advice. But I will give they will ask, sometimes the transfer, ask what I’ve seen on the bench, or how’s these cases played out in front of the jury, and I email you, you can do certain things. And I’m not just a potted plant, using lumber, here’s the number to hire a former judge or anyone to do that a non lawyer can be a mediator. But you know, I think they’re hiring me. Because I’ve seen things and they know that I like to connect with people. And even on zoom, I can still do that pretty well. And, you know, so whether it be an adjuster in a PII case, and, or the plaintiff, I seem to have a good amount of success in getting things settled. But I’m often one, I might say, to myself, I know how this is going to turn out, but I’m not there. And sometimes you plant the seeds. And it might be a month later that the attorneys and the clients finally reached a settlement that you talked about.

Well, and I’ve watched you work that and it really is an art form. Because you’re not telling them what to do. But ultimately, you’re making them think that they decided what to do, but it was kind of what you told them to do. So it helps. So let’s talk about just for the general public, because we throw out mediation, okay, but But what is the process of mediation? What claims get mediated? I mean, just kind of explain that whole thing.

Mediation is the process of trying to have two sides come to a mutual agreement. And when I tell them when one side thinks we’re paying too much money, and one side thinks they’re not getting enough, we have a good settlement. Because what you have the certainty one thing we know, especially after COVID, things are coming up, we don’t have a lot of certainty going on. Right now. It’s funny what you said about you, you wondered if as a plaintiff’s attorney, if you’d be able to have insurance companies for company money. What I found when COVID hidden, we started doing zoom. In the very beginning, I thought the insurance companies were playing a very close to the vest, thinking they could wait out everything. And then I think they realized that the backlog of cases and for the defense firms representing them, was going to be untenable, right. So you have to start loosening the purse strings. And then I have found, for the most part, probably the same flow of money. Now as in the past, right. Now, zoom has become the norm. So the old norm has kind of come up in the beginning, I agree with you. And there was a big concern about that. But mediation is a practice of trying to get people to do and the way it works out, is I start with my little spiel when it is and I like to personally go around the room online, and find out where everyone’s from and a little bit about so it makes it less adversarial. And then the attorneys will give an opening statement for the plaintiff. And then for the defense. We have the ability on zoom, to have what’s called a screen share where you can put exhibits up there and do a PowerPoint. And then I’m able to with the click of a mouse, put people in what’s called breakout rooms. We used to call them a caucus. We will meet in the lawyers office and I’ll be in a conference room, and then we break into separate rooms and the lawyers office and I would go room the room. Now I’m able to create breakout rooms where I put the attorneys in the party for the plaintiff, one side of the fence and the attorneys there and another room. And I can with the click of the mouse go from room to room. And what we talked about is confidential they own here. And it’s worked out pretty well. It’s funny, I used to say, in some offices where I had to go to a different floor for a separate room or cross a big office I, on my phone, you have how many steps you’re doing in a day? Wow, like 3000 steps, or whatever. Now the only thing I get us carpal tunnel. So let’s say

you could get your steps in on the golf course, though. You’ve got my stroke. That’s true. That’s true. But so what type of claims? Do you mediate? I mean, does it go beyond just civil disputes?

Oh, yeah. I mean, I pretty much committee everything Actually, it’s funny I, they wanted me on a pilot program about four or five months ago mediate criminal cases. So the state attorney in the public defender agreed to four cases that I could meet me there were relatively serious cases, the cases they thought could be resolved. And then I would go back and forth and kind of learn from my background in criminal, where would the proper sentence that we get the safe say, Yes, we come a lot of guidelines. And the, the defense attorney would say, Yes, my client can accept that. But for the most part, I mean, I do civil, and family and probate, I mean, so several can be anything from, for instance, later this morning, we still are mediating insurance claims from Hurricane Irma, which was September 10 2017, where someone says they have damaged their house insurance company says the site covered, too to medical malpractice, where some doctors alleged to have created some problem to personal injury, which is very common auto accidents, slip and falls things. NHTSA had one with where someone was in an elevator and panel and not just a little plastic thing, a heavy panel fell on their head. And then the promises created from that on, you have a breach of contract cases, people have a business relationship, and then someone does something different or a non compete that’s been violated. So the whole gamut of everything. And then I do family ones. Also I do anymore civil, because there’s so many more civil cases. But family ones can be anything from the beginning. You know, as a former judge, you kind of figure out how we can settle everything, from transport to time sharing, to dividing up property to whatever, another time since Come on, post this solution. They’ve been divorced. I haven’t when they’ve been divorced for 21 years. And now the kids are growing, thank God, but they’re still fighting over a certain property, then and, you know, enough, folks. I mean, this isn’t a sport, like having annuity for your attorneys.

Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. So does a case have to be in litigation to be mediated?

No, no, I do a fair amount of what’s called pre suit mediations, which means there’s, there’s gonna be a case that could come down the pike, someone could be filing. But before the time, the effort, the energy, and the money especially is spent, they want to see if it can be resolved. And I do a fair amount of those. And it may be in a restaurant with a slip and fall in maybe I’ve done some which were serious allegations of some negligence on the part of a doctor, even there’s certain notifications, you have to give him like that. But we’ve had a fair amount of success with that. Where when you get down to it, how expensive it can be that people realize maybe it’s smart to settle now.

Excellent. Well, listen, I’ve had the pleasure of mediating cases with you. I’m sure there’ll be many more to come. I could spend a lot of time talking with you, Stan, because one you’ve got fascinating background, and you’re just, I think a tremendous human being as well. Well, thank you. The check will be sent to you very soon. Exactly. That’s the way that you wrote it up right.

Now, that wouldn’t be right. I wouldn’t want to say that.

Yeah, exactly. Well, clearly, clearly a lawyer we can take off anybody’s kill us to stand like and if you need any mediation services, Stanford Blake mediation, okay. You can look him up. He does do a tremendous job and I and I’m going to tell you stand. In all honesty. A lot of ex judges that have become mediators. I don’t think you’ve become very good mediators because they still think they’re wearing the ropes and I’ll leave names out but, but it really has been a tough transition. I think you’ve done a great job.

Well, thank you. I’ll tell you a funny story about There used to be a judge who was across the hall from me in one of the courthouses and he would come in in the morning and tell me how or the afternoon a higher rule to someone or out loud treated someone. And I would say you’re such a, whatever, right in the blanks. So now he’s after a meeting, he’s been doing it for a while. He says, I have maybe one mediation maybe two a month, and you’re booked up every day for three or four months. I still remember what I used to tell you, you were leaving, I said, but if you treat people like that, now you say to him, I want you to pay me four or $500 an hour. Oh, yeah, you treated me like that. So I do think all those former colleagues for that. And it was funny when I went out people say, Well, I have to see that we don’t I was on the bench, but we have to see how he is a mediator. Unfortunately, I’ve kind of fooled them and figured it out. So David, I think you this show is terrific. And I love you know, let’s kill all the lawyers and which was really meant the opposite. If you like get rid of society, that’s what you do. But I love the name of your show. And where’s the showing anyway? Or something like that?

I will send you a link so that you have it and you can you know, you can show your friends both of them? No, we’re not. The other one is no longer. Sorry. Sorry. Short, but I’ll send you a link and we’ve got on Apple and Spotify and community newspapers is run it and so we’re getting it out there. And but anybody that needs mediation services Stanford like mediation is there been a pleasure, Stan?

David, love seeing you and you know, we’ve taught together and we’ve done things together and I always loved watching you. You’re obviously much much much younger than I am by watching you on the football field and, and cheering for you. I didn’t know we’d be friends ultimately.

Well, it’s nice. It’s nice to know and and I look forward to seeing you sometime soon. Go mediate. Go enjoy some golf in your 58 degree weather up there. I’m gonna go outside and sweat for a while.

Yeah, you might want where if you’re outside a lighter shirt. Okay.

Thank you so much, Bob. All right. Thanks for having me. Thank you. And that that wraps another one. We can take somebody off the kill list and we’ll talk to you soon.