- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

An enterprising Florida prosecutor whose courtroom exploits read like television dramas has become the lightning rod since Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her a Circuit Court judge in January, thereby prompting debate about her advocacy of Christianity.
The elevation of Cheryl J. Aleman, 43, who prosecuted 100 criminal trials in 17 years, also sparked charges about the philosophical well from which Mr. Bush draws judicial candidates and how he tests their stands on issues.
The flap also was the basis for a novel accusation that Mr. Bush's general counsel, former Rep. Charles T. Canady, who helped prosecute President Clinton's impeachment trial, is relying on the little-known Ninth Amendment to probe views on abortion and contraception.
That could betray the governor's 1999 promise to the Florida Bar to rely on professional qualification rather than to use litmus tests to seek "ideologically compatible" prospects.
"I can tell you there are no litmus test questions during judicial interviews. It appears that this question may have been misunderstood or misconstrued by certain individuals," Bush aide Elizabeth Hirst said, adding that it was dropped because it "may create an unnecessary distraction."
Judge Aleman, whose appointment did not require legislative approval, did not respond to an inquiry with her law clerk, but her choice is making waves that are altering how Mr. Bush's staff handles appointments.
"It's obvious the opposition against Judge Aleman is solely because she's a Christian," said Thomas J. Shea III, of Fort Lauderdale, president of the Broward County chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), the job Judge Aleman held before him.
The Miami Daily Business Review began the public flap with an article about the Feb. 8 B'nai B'rith-sponsored robing ceremony for her and two other judges.
The article quoted religious remarks she made, which included telling guests that religion is important "in every area of my life" and asking reporter Julie Kay whether she prayed.
"The story must have hit home to draw that kind of reaction," said Harris Meyer, law editor of the Review, South Florida's dominant legal newspaper, which followed the news article with commentary and responses on the letters page.
Mr. Meyer called Judge Aleman's remarks unwise and said "the lingering question is not about her open mouth, but about her open mind."
He rejected charges the judge was attacked for being Christian, calling that interpretation "either a careless reading of the story or a disingenuous one."
Retorted Mr. Shea: "She's one of the most qualified and most level-headed people I know."
Mr. Shea saw a double standard in examining the integrity of outspoken Christians while accepting at face value advocates for other religion-based groups such as the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
"The bigger issue here is assassinating a judge because of her membership in an organization," said Nathan Adams, chief litigation counsel for the Annandale-based CLS. "It's troubling to us that nobody in South Florida is upset that lawyers seeking to become judges are involved with the American Civil Liberties Union."
For example, the American Bar Association is officially pro-choice, but its lawyer members are not presumed to have that view.
Among Judge Aleman's more sensational cases as a prosecutor, she won a 10-year prison sentence for Lonnie Lewis, who led a swindle that used 48 corporate names to steal $12 million from victims promised $70,000 in annual profits for servicing snack-machine vending routes. And she recovered $1.4 million for victims from a Cayman Islands bank.
In 1999, Raymond Soria got life without parole for rape, although his victim could not testify. Mrs. Aleman was not allowed to tell jurors the woman was murdered two days before she was scheduled to testify. She proved her case with a paramedic and sheriff's deputy's testimony that withstood hearsay objections.
Mr. Meyer said he would question any would-be judge who is active on legal or policy issues, including such U.S. Supreme Court justices as the late Thurgood Marshall who had served 21 years as NAACP legal director, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who founded the ACLU Women's Rights Project.
"My commentary drew a clear distinction between private religious convictions and being a religio-political advocate and activist," Mr. Meyer said.
Some analysts found it ludicrous to hinge a judgeship on Ninth Amendment views. That provision, whose authorship is widely ascribed to James Madison, says the Constitution's listing of rights does not mean other unspecified rights are not "retained by the people." Only six cases in the history of Florida's appeals courts and Supreme Court have involved the issue.
"This is the first I've ever heard of using the Ninth Amendment as a litmus test," said Eliot Mincberg, general counsel of the liberal People for the American Way. "For a state judge it would be particularly unusual because the Ninth Amendment is in the federal Constitution and not something that's been used all that much in state cases."


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