Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jim Turner runs for circuit judge

By Lyn Payne

Associate Editor

When attorney N. James (“Jim”) Turner reflects on the inspiration he draws from Jewish tradition, he thinks that “perseverance is the key to success.”

“I stood in solidarity with the refuseniks of the Soviet Union at a time when the idea of emigration was dismal,” he told the Heritage by phone last week. “But we continued to fight and to pursue the goal of the complete emigration of all Soviet Jews, and we succeeded,” he said of his participation in the movement to free Soviet Jewry decades ago. Turner, then a member of Congregation of Reform Judaism, participated with the synagogue in “adopting” a Soviet Jewish family and maintaining regular contact to keep their spirits up. Turner also served as Orlando-area fundraising chair for the United Jewish Appeal effort to free the Russians. Other service in the Jewish community includes two years as president of the Hebrew Day School.

Now he wants to take his perseverance and his career to the next level: filling the seat of retiring Judge George Sprinkel in Group 22 in the Ninth Circuit Court. Serving Orange and Osceola counties, the Ninth Circuit covers more than 2,000 square miles and serves more than 1.3 million residents and receives an average of 590,000 new cases a year; that makes it among the largest circuits in Florida. It handles civil, criminal, domestic and juvenile issues. Turner believes his 32 years of practicing law in Florida—“ten more years of legal experience than either of my opponents”—puts him ahead of rivals Fred Schott (also profiled recently in the Heritage) and John Crotty. Voters will decide on Aug. 26.

Turner may be more well known as a father than as a judge: His only child is Amy Turner, who makes up one-third of the acclaimed singing trio Visions, and when Turner gets asked “Are you Amy’s father?” he’s “bursting with pride.” The group got its start when the talent of the three young girls was recognized by Cantor Allan Robuck as they studied to become b’not mitzvah. Turner used to be a member of COS, along with his former wife Phyllis, and he plans to rejoin. “My heart is with Ohev,” he said.

Turner graduated from Bentley College and cum laude from the University of Miami Law School. He’s a former chair of the Orange County Bar’s Labor and Employment Law Section, and has written several articles for the Florida Bar Journal. His volunteer efforts include the Coalition for the Homeless, the Legal Aid Society and the Friends of the Orlando Philharmonic.

“I decided that after practicing for 32 years and having done everything I could do as a lawyer”—he said he’s tried cases in courts of every level except the U.S. Supreme Court—“it was time to step up and to go farther in my legal career.”

He said his “significant courtroom experience,” including trying cases in the very court for which he’s running, gives him an edge: “One of my opponents is a workers comp lawyer and doesn’t try cases in circuit court.”

He also believes that his military background sets him apart: “I think that I’m the only candidate with prior military service. And I think prior military service means something. That you’re willing to serve.”

He takes pride in being a Vietman era veteran—he served in Europe during that war. “It made me in retrospect become very patriotic. I am more aware of the young men and women that are serving our country today, and am much more sensitive to them than I ever was before.” How would this translate on the bench? “I think it just makes me someone who’s got some life experience that gives me a different view, a broader view of things.”

What does he think is the most important quality for a judge? “Integrity. If you’re the smartest judge in the world but without integrity, you’re not going to be a good judge. Experience is second.” He’s a board certified civil trial lawyer, and is also certified by the Florida Supreme Court to teach constitutional law to high school students. He’s given presentations to schools, rotary clubs and veterans’ groups.

One of Turner’s topics is the pledge of allegiance and its meaning: “How ‘under God’ was put in there and what that means.” He tells groups about the history of the Supreme Court and religious freedom cases—as in the famous case of a Jehovah’s Witness who asserted the right not to say the pledge on religious grounds. In the original case in the 1940s, the Supreme Court, he said, found that “national unity is more important than individual rights on religion.” “That’s quite a broad, sweeping statement that sounds like something that comes out of the U.S.S.R.” Fortunately, thinks Turner, the court later reversed itself in favor of religious freedom.

Turner is co-founder of NELA, a “trade association of lawyers whose specialty is to educate lawyers and the public on civil rights.” He’s tried and won a variety of cases on civil rights in the workplace, specifically the rights of women and minorities. One involved a group of Hispanic drivers, many of them immigrants, who worked for a large transportation company and were “forced to accept lower wages and to work certain hours and accept certain [lower] pay” because the company claimed they were subject to an independent contractor agreement, rather than having the status of regular employees.

“It’s one of the cases I’m proudest of, because it was about economic oppression.” Turner won for the drivers, who often worked 60 – 80 hours a week, overtime pay and other rights. He’s also concerned about the sexual harassment of women in the workplace, and recently won a significant case (Hinton v. Supervision Intern, Inc.) for a victim. “My sympathies, my heart, are in protecting the rights of minorities,” including women.

With all that constitutional background, how does Turner think he’d address family law issues on the bench? “When it comes to children, I’m going to be concerned about the best interests of the child... children are paramount.”

On the death penalty: “I’m obligated to follow the law. All of the death penalty cases are heard by a jury, and the jury makes the recommendation to a judge [whether to impose the death penalty].”

His idea of the perfect judge? “Aside from integrity and experience, it’s somebody who listens... And that’s what I will do. I will be open-minded, I will be fair and I will listen.”

He also wants greater efficiency in the courts. As a judge, “I would be efficient, and make myself available for hearings.” Often, he said, lawyers find judges with whom they can’t schedule a hearing for four to six months. “I want to give people the opportunity to have their cases heard. Respect breeds respect.”

Should he be elected, he knows he’d face budget cuts. One solution would be to have non-violent criminals sentenced to “non-make-work projects” such as building houses with Habitat for Humanity. He’s also concerned that currently only three Spanish interpreters serve the Ninth Circuit, and his goal is to become bilingual himself by Jan. 1 to assist in serving the Hispanic population.

Turner’s endorsements include a significant one: Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer.

“I’ve been campaigning for over a year,” Turner said, “and I’ve gotten to know the needs of the community and I’ve met some phenomenal people... Physically, spiritually and emotionally, it has been the greatest experience of my life. I hope I win.”

One of Turner’s proudest recent moments was being asked as a veteran to be one of the three people in an honor guard at a fellow veteran’s funeral. He didn’t even know the person, but “that’s one of the duties you have. To give final salute. The most important thing is to do the right thing—and that’s what I try to do regardless of the consequences.”

For more information about Jim Turner and his campaign, visit


Anonymous said...

This man is the most belligerent, insensitive, irate attorney i have ever met. I needed an attorney for a discrimination case and he was very rude, unprofessional, had a bad attitude and stated that the client needed to learn english if he was going to be in America bottom line. No guidance, assistants, or understanding was rendered by this attorney. He was annoyed throughout our brief conversation. Steer clear, you don't want this man to be the next judge, we'll all be in trouble. Mr. Turner, you don't have my vote...

Anonymous said...

Ditto! I have worked with Jim Turner for the last 2 years and he is the absolute rudest, most unprofessional person I have ever met in my life! I have never met anyone who walks into another company's office, unannounced, on multiple occassions, without scheduling an appointment in advance, walks PAST the reception desk, and helps himself to whatever he pleases, and when the receptionist asks if she can help him he DEMANDS immediate service without scheduling in advance. All this while he hadn't paid his bill for services in over a YEAR! AND... had the audacity to ask the manager of that office if he would make a campaign contribution. Everyone who works in Jim Turner's downtown office building HATES him! I cannot believe he got more votes than the other candidates! WHO DID HE BRIBE??????

NewJorRican said...

LMAO...I called Jim about a Civil employment case where my former employer is refusing to pay me my commision checks. He told me that because he was running for judge and that the amount of my commission weren't enough for him to take the case. Meanwhile, I am a military vet. I will make sure I vote against Jim.