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Raul Zambrano, Redoubtable Alumni of Flagler Bench, Will Be 7th Circuit’s Chief Judge

| June 26, 2017

Judge Raul Zambrano in Flagler in 2011. He is the 7th Judicial Circuit's new Chief Judge. (© FlaglerLive)

Judge Raul Zambrano in Flagler in 2011. He is the 7th Judicial Circuit’s new Chief Judge. (© FlaglerLive)

Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano, a native of Panama, doesn’t like to be considered a minority, even though he was the first Hispanic judge in the 7th Judicial Circuit in 2005.

But the son of parents who lifted themselves from poverty with their own taxi business is not unaware of his journey to the bench, by way of Dubuque, Iowa, where he’d landed as a 15 year old. “Many, many people helped me get here,” he told Flagler County students at a Minority in Law Participation symposium organized by the local bar association in 2011. “But from time to time you’ll see a person standing in front of you, looking at you, and you can see the pride they have in you. They see one of them made it. You can do that too.”

At the time he was trying to fill the shoes of his predecessor in Flagler, Judge Kim Hammond, a monumental name locally that quite literally left an imprint on the facade of the new county courthouse, which is named after him. But Zambrano, by the force of his personality and his severity–he’s known as one of the circuit’s most punishing judges–quickly asserted himself and began leaving imprints of his own, among them Sally’s Safe Haven, where children from abusive families can spend time with the abusive parent in a strictly controlled environment. Zambrano pushed for the federally funded haven, after tiring of witnessing such family gatherings by the flagpole in front of the courthouse. Those meetings could get volatile. The haven bears the name of Deputy County Administrator Sally Sherman, who shepherded it through, though it could just as easily have had Zambrano’s name.

Zambrano has since moved on to preside over criminal court in DeLand (ceding a musically inclined bench that’s now on its fourth judge since his departure). In the next couple of years, a few more people will be standing in front of Zambrano with that look of pride in their eyes as he’s about to add one more achievement: the 42 judges in the 7th Judicial Circuit, which covers Flagler, Volusia, St. Johns and Putnam counties, have elected him Chief Judge for the next two years, starting on July 1. He will replace Circuit Judge Terence R. Perkins, who served two terms.

There’s not much glamour, power or additional money for the position of chief judge. He’ll still make what other circuit judges make–$146,000 a year, or $16,000 more than the governor but $16,000 less than Supreme Court justices–and he’ll still preside over felony criminal court, though he’ll give up Drug Court. The position, aside from its more august title, mostly calls for additional administrative duties. But getting named to it is also a reflection of the respect a judge commands among his peers.

“The chief judge has the top administrative duties for the entire circuit, and is directly answerable to the Florida Supreme Court on various annual issue,” Ludmilla Lelis, the circuit’s spokesperson, said today. “Essentially they kind of set overall policy decisions for the circuit. Judge Perkins was interested in improving technology, he pushed forth technological advances in different courts. In day to day things, when a judge needs to recuse himself, the chief judge reassigns cases. There are everyday duties like that.”

As Chief Judge, Zambrano will be in a position to advocate for more help for judges in Flagler, particularly for County Court Judge Melissa Moore-Stens, whose docket is proportionally the heaviest of any county judge in the state. The Legislature last spring set aside $100,000 that would have afforded an extra county judge at least for the coming year. Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the money. Zambrano is in no greater position to advocate for Flagler than was Perkins, with this difference: Zambrano may have more affinities for Flagler’s challenges since he experienced them first hand and worked with two of the current judges–Moore-Stens and Dennis Craig, who presided over civil court when Zambrano was over felony court, before Craig spent a few years working in Volusia.

“He’ll certainly be in a position to talk about that with folks in Tallahasee,” Lelis said of Zambrano, “because the issue has come up before. Certainly as Chief Judge he’ll be composing the circuit’s own requests for judges and considerations for that. That goes to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court asks the Legislature for judicial positions.”

Zambrano, 54, earned his bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He received his juris doctor from Stetson University. Prior to becoming a judge, he served as an Assistant State Attorney. Gov. Bush appointed him to the bench in 2005, filling a position the Legislature created in the circuit that year. At the time, Zambrano was among the prosecutors working the mass-murder case of Troy Victorino and Jerone Hunter, who the following year were found guilty and sentenced to death for the murders of six people on Telford Lane in Deltona in August 2004. Both men may get a chance at a new sentencing hearing because they’d been sentenced under death penalty rules the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court have since declared unconstitutional. (Two other men involved in the murders, Michael Salas and Robert Cannon, are serving life sentences.)

Zambrano is feared not only by those who appear before him in court, but evidently by other pretenders to the bench: he was reelected without opposition in 2008 and in 2014, and so has never actually had to campaign or win a contested election.

The 7th Circuit issued a release about his appointment earlier today in which he was quoted only about Perkins: “We owe a debt of gratitude to Judge Perkins for his stewardship as chief judge over the past 4 years,” Zambrano said in the release. “Fifteen new judges took the bench during his chief judge tenure. We’ve also seen tremendous growth in our use of technology. Through it all, Judge Perkins led the circuit with a steady hand and unwavering commitment to the fair and efficient administration of justice. I’m honored that my colleagues have entrusted me with following in his footsteps.”

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12 Responses for “Raul Zambrano, Redoubtable Alumni of Flagler Bench, Will Be 7th Circuit’s Chief Judge”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations Judge Zambrano, you will make an excellent Chief Judge—-probably the best this Circuit has ever seen.

  2. John dolan says:

    Judge Zambrano is a role model for kids and a remarkable man. He is also a great musician. He deserves this position.

  3. Jack Howell says:

    Congratulations are in order. Judge Zambrano is the most logical selection for this post. He earned it.

  4. GM2 says:

    Anonymous – for once I agree with you. Raul Zambrano is tops in my book – tough yet fair.

  5. J says:

    Completely disagree. Dennis Craig in my opinion is way better at being fair in court than zambrano ever was. Completely dislike zambrano.

  6. Wtf says:

    With all the hispanics coming to town hopefully he will set them on the right path along with everyone else🙃

  7. Steven says:

    I hope so! If he’s as good as a man as they say he is, may be be the role model they must all look to for guidance!!!!!

  8. Itsme says:

    Who cares whether he’s Hispanic or not??? Ridiculous

  9. Anonymous says:

    Maybe after you show them how to do it Judge the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center name will be changed to the Raul Zambrano Justice Center…..Has a nice ring to it!

  10. Alex says:

    Hey, Itsme, you do understand that’s his point, right? He doesn’t like to be “considered a minority.”

  11. Meredith Herron Calvert says:

    Congratulations Cheif Judge Zambrano. My husband and I will be praying for you that God will grant you favor, wisdom and discernment in fulfilling your new responsibilities.

  12. John G says:

    Congratulations Cheif Judge Zambrano !! God bless you and your family

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