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Questionnaire: Joseph Zager, candidate for Broward County Court Judge Group 16

Questionnaire: Joseph Zager, candidate for Broward County Court Judge Group 16

Name: Joseph Zager
Date and place of birth: January 8, 1971. Teaneck, NJ
Office sought: Broward County Court Judge, Group 16
Campaign website: electjosephzager.com

List in reverse chronological order each college, university and law school and indicate years of attendance.
Nova Southeastern University, 08/1995-05/1998, Juris DoctorFlorida International
University, 08/1989-05/1991, B.S. Hospitality Management
Broward Community College, 05/1989-08-1989 and 05-1990-08-1990
University of Miami, 08/1987-05/1989

List in reverse chronological order your work history for the past 15 years.
ZAGERLAW, PA, 533 NE 3rd Avenue, Suite R-1, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 Attorney/Owner of the firm from 8/2016 – present.
State Attorney’s Office Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, 201 SE 6th Street, 7th Floor, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Assistant State Attorney from 04/1999 – 07/2002, and 12/2006 – 08/2016.

As a lawyer, judge, or both, describe what types of cases you have typically handled?
As a lawyer, my professional experience spans a diverse range of cases across different court levels, encompassing both criminal and civil matters. In the County Court, I have dealt with a variety of misdemeanor cases, including simple misdemeanors such as petty theft, disorderly conduct, and minor drug offenses, as well as traffic violations including DUIs and reckless driving, and domestic violence misdemeanors involving assault and battery. My role in the Circuit Court has involved more serious criminal matters, ranging from third-degree to first-degree felonies such as theft, assault, and drug trafficking, to capital life felonies including capital sexual battery, homicide and kidnapping, which carry the potential for life imprisonment.

On the civil side, my experience in County Court has included managing a variety of disputes such as small claims involving minor financial disagreements, defamation cases addressing libel and slander, unlawful detainer cases related to landlord-tenant conflicts, and credit card debt disputes

In the Circuit Court, I have handled more complex and higher-stakes civil cases, including issuing injunctions to prevent actions like harassment and domestic violence, overseeing dissolution and family matters such as divorce, child custody, alimony, and child support, as well as managing significant civil actions involving breach of contract disputes, and substantial financial claims. This extensive experience has provided me with a deep understanding of the legal process, enabling me to manage cases efficiently and make fair and just decisions, whether advocating for clients or presiding over court proceedings.

If you are an attorney, how many cases have you tried in the past five years? Of those cases, how many were tried before juries to verdicts and how many were tried before a judge?
Over the past five years, I have actively tried a total of 33 cases. Among these, 3 cases were presented before a jury and proceeded to verdict, demonstrating my ability to handle the complexities and dynamics of jury trials. The remaining 30 cases were tried to verdict before a judge, reflecting my extensive experience and proficiency in bench trials. This blend of jury and bench trials highlights my versatility and depth of experience in advocating for clients and navigating the legal process to achieve favorable outcomes.

If you are a judge, how many jury trials have you presided over that resulted in verdicts and judgments?
N/A

Have you been a party to a lawsuit, including bankruptcy or foreclosure? If so, provide details, including case style, jurisdiction and details of disposition.

1. I was the plaintiff in a Workers Compensation case sometime in 1991. Claim number: 091-62-1212. The style of the case is: Zager, Joseph vs. TGIFridays #167. The case was resolved with a settlement.
2. I was the plaintiff in a small claims action. The style of the case is: Joseph Zager vs. Towne Park Services, LLC. The case was resolved with a Default Final Judgment in my favor.

Have you been charged or convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, including adjudications of guilt withheld? If so, provide charges, dates of conviction and terms of sentence.
N/A

Have you ever been disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court as a result of a recommendation by the Florida Bar? If so, provide details.
N/A

List three cases in which you were lead or co-counsel and why they are significant.
1. State of Florida vs. Jose Miranda, 04-17056CF10A. Seventeenth Judicial Circuit. I represented the State of Florida in a significant Capital Sexual Battery case where the defendant, Jose Miranda, was accused of abusing his niece over a period of three years, from when she was seven until she was approximately ten years old. This case was particularly complex, involving multiple witnesses from various parts of the state as well as from Honduras. It required the use of Child Hearsay and Williams Rule evidence from several witnesses, adding to the intricacies of the trial.

The case was tried three times. The first two trials, held before Judge Charles Green (ending on February 9, 2007) and Judge Susan Lebow (ending on March 18, 2008), resulted in mistrials because the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. In these trials, the opposing counsel was Keith Seltzer, with Sonia Bortolin as co-counsel. The third trial, presided over by Judge Joel Lazarus and concluding on August 29, 2008, finally resulted in a conviction on all counts, with Melisa McNeill as the opposing counsel.

However, after the defendant had served two years of his life sentence, the case was reversed on appeal. Given the complexities and emotional toll of a fourth trial, the victim and her family agreed to a plea deal that reduced the charge to Aggravated Child Abuse, resulting in a sentence of time served followed by 54 months of probation. The mandate for this adjustment came down on February 1, 2011, and the defendant was sentenced to the reduced charge on March 15, 2011.
This case is significant due to its procedural complexity, the involvement of multiple jurisdictions and legal rules, and the eventual resolution through a plea agreement after an extensive legal battle. It highlights the challenges and nuances of handling sensitive and high-stakes cases in the judicial system.

2. State of Florida vs. Lynde Hagen. 11-13339CF10A. Seventeenth Judicial Circuit. I represented the State of Florida in a significant case involving the failure to register as a sexual offender. The defendant, Lynde Hagen, pleaded to the charge and was sentenced to nine years in prison, which was the minimum sentence according to the guideline score sheet.

The pivotal issue in this case arose when the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) contacted the State Attorney’s Office, indicating that the defendant was not required to register as a sexual offender and should never have been subjected to this requirement. Upon receiving this information, I conducted a thorough verification, including reviewing the relevant statute from the state of Maryland, which was the basis for the initial registration requirement.

Following this discovery, I filed a Motion to Vacate the Plea and Judgments on the case. Within approximately 48 hours of obtaining the new information, I successfully secured the defendant’s release from prison and subsequently dismissed the case. Furthermore, I filed motions to vacate the pleas and judgments from the defendant’s two prior convictions in Florida, resulting in the dismissal of those cases as well.

This case is particularly significant because, as a prosecutor, it is rare to file a motion on behalf of a defendant that leads to their release from custody and the clearing of their record. It underscores the paramount importance of seeking justice rather than merely securing convictions. The ability to rectify an injustice and ensure the proper application of the law was a critical aspect of my role as an Assistant State Attorney. The case was presided over by Judge David Haimes on December 19, 2012, with Marissa Gart serving as opposing counsel.

3. State of Florida vs. Donald James. 07-18757CF10A. Seventeenth Judicial Circuit. I represented the State of Florida in a case that involved one count of Computer Child Exploitation and one count of Attempted Lewd Battery. The case involved the Defendant chatting online to an undercover detective that he believed to be a fourteen-year-old girl. He chatted graphically about having sexual relations with the underage girl and traveled from South Miami-Dade County to Pompano in Broward County to meet the “child.” The case is significant because it was the first time I tried one of these cases involving the charged crimes. It was a new, expanding and interesting aspect of the law. The case was tried in front of Judge Michael Gates and ended on February 26, 2008.

If you have provided any significant pro bono legal services in the past 10 years, please provide details.
I’m currently representing a divorced mother who has filed for an injunction against the father, seeking protection for herself and their minor child. The injunction is crucial to ensure their safety and well-being in the face of any potential threats or harm posed by the father. Additionally, there’s a secondary issue concerning the divorce decree from another state that has yet to be addressed. This decree lacks the necessary provisions to establish a parenting plan and child support arrangement, leaving critical matters unresolved. My role involves addressing this oversight and advocating for the implementation of a comprehensive parenting plan that prioritizes the best interests of the child while also ensuring adequate financial support. This pro bono representation is essential in providing the mother and child with the legal assistance they need to navigate these complex family law issues and secure their rights and protections.

List current and former memberships in civic, fraternal, legal or social organizations.
I am a member of The Florida Bar Association, where I actively participate in the criminal and family law sections. Being part of these sections keeps me abreast of the latest legal developments and allows me to network with fellow professionals in my practice areas.

Additionally, I am a member of the Broward County Bar Association, which provides valuable local connections and resources specific to my legal practice.

My membership in the United States Southern District of Florida signifies my involvement in federal cases or proceedings, expanding my legal practice beyond the state level. This broadens my experience and allows me to handle a diverse range of legal matters.

I am also a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator, highlighting my dedication to alternative dispute resolution in family law. This certification reflects my ability to facilitate amicable resolutions and streamline the legal process for my clients.

Furthermore, I am involved in the Miami Association of Realtors as a Realtor, complementing my legal expertise with practical insights into real estate transactions. This dual role allows me to offer comprehensive services to clients, combining legal knowledge with industry experience to meet their needs effectively.

If you are or were an officer or director or engaged in management of any business enterprise other than a law practice, list its name and business activity, your duties and whether you intend to resign upon your election.
N/A

Why are you running for this office?
My primary motivation for running for County Court Judge stems from a deep-seated commitment to upholding the fundamental principles of justice. I am dedicated to ensuring that the legal process remains accessible and impartial for all individuals who appear before the court. It is my firm belief that justice should be blind to factors such as socioeconomic status, race, or gender, and I am committed to upholding this principle in every case that comes before me.

In addition to promoting fairness and impartiality, I aim to cultivate a welcoming and dignified environment within the courtroom. It is essential to me that every individual, regardless of their background or circumstances, feels respected and heard. I am dedicated to providing a platform where the voices of the people of Broward County are valued and listened to with the utmost respect.

Furthermore, I am driven to be a judge who bases decisions solely on the law and the evidence presented, free from any bias or discrimination. Upholding the principles of fairness and impartiality is paramount to me, ensuring that justice is served equitably for all who seek recourse in the legal system. By adhering to these principles, I strive to earn the trust and confidence of the community I serve, and to make a positive impact on the lives of those who come before me in the courtroom.

If you have chosen to run for judicial office against an incumbent, specify why you have done so.
I am running in an open seat.

If you have sought appointment as a judge through a Judicial Nominating Commission, provide details, including year(s) and results.
Judicial Nominating Commission for County Court Judicial Position 2007. Not selected.

Why should voters elect you instead of your opponent(s)?
Voters should elect me because of my extensive and diverse legal experience. As a prosecutor, I’ve handled a wide range of cases, from petty thefts to homicides, demonstrating my ability to tackle complex and serious matters with diligence and integrity. My understanding of criminal law and procedure, honed through prosecuting a broad spectrum of offenses, ensures that I can navigate the complexities of the legal system effectively.

Moreover, my experience extends beyond criminal law into civil and family law, showcasing my versatility and breadth of legal knowledge. From divorce and real estate cases to small claims and defamation suits, I’ve successfully represented clients across various legal domains. This multifaceted experience enables me to approach legal issues from different angles and advocate effectively for my clients’ interests.

With over 85 jury trials under my belt, I possess deep courtroom experience and proficiency in trial advocacy. This extensive trial background equips me with the skills necessary to preside over cases fairly, impartially, and with a thorough understanding of legal principles.

In essence, my diverse legal background, spanning prosecution and defense, criminal and civil matters, along with my extensive trial experience, uniquely qualifies me to serve as a County Court Judge in Group 16. I am committed to upholding the law, ensuring justice, and serving the community to the best of my abilities, making me the ideal candidate for this vital position on the bench.

What in your life experience best qualifies you to serve as a judge?
My 25 years of experience practicing law uniquely qualify me to serve as a judge. Throughout my career, I have appeared before County Court and Circuit Court judges, gaining invaluable insight into how the legal system operates. This extensive courtroom experience has provided me with a deep understanding of not only the law but also the nuances of the jury trial system.

Conducting numerous trials, particularly jury trials, has equipped me with the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that justice is properly administered. I understand the intricacies involved in presenting evidence, examining witnesses, and navigating legal procedures. This firsthand experience allows me to adjudicate cases with fairness, impartiality, and a keen understanding of the principles of justice.

Moreover, my years of practice have taught me what distinguishes a good judge from a bad one. I believe in being respectful, caring, and attentive to the concerns of all litigants who appear before the court. My goal is to provide the people of Broward County with a judge who will listen to their causes, evaluate the facts and the law presented, and make rulings based solely on merit and legal principles.

In essence, my extensive courtroom experience and commitment to fairness and justice uniquely qualify me to serve as a judge. I am dedicated to upholding the integrity of the legal system and ensuring that everyone who enters the courtroom receives a fair and impartial hearing.

What are three major challenges facing the justice system in Broward County, Florida or the U.S.?
Three major challenges facing the justice system include:
Inaccessibility to the courts: Many individuals, especially those with limited means, struggle to access legal representation and navigate the court system. It’s crucial to ensure that everyone feels welcome and empowered to seek justice through the courts. As a judge, I am committed to creating an environment where every person is treated with respect, given a fair opportunity to be heard, and receives timely decisions.

Costs of the legal system: The overall cost of legal services, including the expenses associated with hiring attorneys for government positions, presents a significant challenge. Talented lawyers often leave government roles for higher-paying positions in the private sector, leading to difficulties in retaining experienced professionals in public service. Addressing these financial barriers is essential to ensuring the continued effectiveness and accessibility of the legal system.

Perception of unfairness in the justice system: There is a widespread perception that the justice system is unfair, often stemming from misunderstandings about how laws are applied, and decisions are made. It’s crucial to educate the public about the objective application of the law based on the facts presented in each case. Additionally, changes in legislation can impact judicial rulings, leading to misconceptions about the fairness of certain outcomes. By fostering transparency and promoting understanding of legal processes, we can work to address these perceptions and uphold the integrity of the justice system.

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