Judge Steven B. Feren, the former Democrat Mayor of Sunrise, wants voters to think he’s the protector of Broward’s children. When not touting bills he crafted as a state legislator, Feren describes his alleged lifelong quest of saving kids coming into his courtroom. Locked in a tough campaign with attorney John Patrick Contini, Feren is pushing his ” guardian of the children” argument in front of Republicans and Democrats. Just one problem, it’s more Broward baloney.
On July 8th, Feren tried to sell this judicial snake oil to the Plantation Democratic Club. In a room full of Democrat grassroots activists and politicians, Feren attempted to be the biggest bleeding-heart liberal. “The thing I feel strongest about in my life is taking care of the people who can’t take care of themselves,” Feren said. “The thing that I try to do most is take care of the children who pass through my division.” Then, Judge Feren dropped his “hero of the children” bomb. Feren said the children, “Need somebody to watch over them….To look out for them….To take their side.” Feren claimed he understood the problems they’re facing in life. He said the children at at a stage where “the things that are happening to them right now are going to affect them for the rest of their lives.” If elected to another six-year term as judge, Feren said his main goal would be, “to continue to take care of Broward’s children.”
On July 28th, Feren delivered a similar message to members of the Broward Republican Executive Committee. “My goal in life is very simple,” Feren said. “I want to help the kids that appear in my courtroom.” It’s unclear whether Democrat and Republican activists bought Feren’s message. One audience has flatly rejected Feren’s claim to be guardian of Broward’s children: the Judges of the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
FOURTH DISTRICT COURT OF APPEALS DECISION LEADS TO FEREN’S REMOVAL FROM JUVENILE COURT
While presiding over juvenile court, Judge Steven B. Feren was accused of threatening harsh punishment for young defendants for maintaining their innocence. In R.V. v. State Of Florida, the Fourth District Court of Appeals recounted Feren’s comments from a 2009 case where a defendant was facing multiple charges. The court wrote, “Discussing the number of cases another child had pending, apparently eleven, [Feren] said, ‘Okay. This is what they meant when they taught us about the weight of the evidence? . . . Eleven files on one side. Getting pretty weighty.’ According to the motions, the court ‘gestured as if it were holding the scales of justice and lowered the scale….'”
At a subsequent hearing, “Judge Feren expressed his opinion that when a child has multiple cases, it is a waste of the judge’s time for the child to proceed to trial on any one charge and plea out the remainder of the cases. The trial judge reasoned the sanction imposed in those cases that were pled would be the same as the penalty imposed in the case that was tried. The trial judge concluded by stating that he did not see why he had to spend time on a trial when it would not matter to the child in terms of the sanction imposed.” The Court said Feren acknowledged that some young defendants may not want a serious felony charge on their record for life, but “he minimized the importance of the difference, stating ‘not all of the felonies ultimately matter down the road. There’s really no difference between a grand theft and a petit theft withheld. It’s still going to be a theft one way or the other. Doesn’t make a difference.'” According to the opinion, Feren warned lawyers that when defendants with multiple charges lost at trial they would face longer sentences:
You have to explain to them though, that if they go to trial on that case and they lose, I’m going to adjudicate them, which is going to be a more significant blot on their record than, you know, a withheld along with a bunch of other withhelds is going to be, and that I’m probably going to give them some punishment over and above what they might later plead to. . . . I’m not going to do it concurrent because the child took his chances, went to trial, I found him guilty, and he has to do a separate punishment on that in my mind as opposed to the other cases where the court is giving him what’s agreed to between the parties as an expediency because the child is pleading no contest and the court doesn’t know whether the child is guilty or not guilty.
Fearing he would not get a fair hearing before Judge Feren, the defendant asked for a new judge. Feren denied the request. In his petition to the Fourth District Court of Appeals, the defendant argued, “Judge Feren’s comment regarding the great weight of the evidence, coupled by his hand gesture of lowering one side of an imaginary scale when stating “getting pretty weighty,” would lead a reasonable person to believe the court was not going to judge each of his cases individually and instead would consider the number of pending cases in determining the child’s guilt or innocence.”
Chief Judge Dorian K. Damoorgian, Judge Martha C. Warner and Judge W. Matthew Stevenson granted the defendant’s petition. The Fourth District Court of Appeals held, “The number of cases an accused has cannot be considered in weighing the evidence in any single case; that would be like relying on the number of cases to show the child’s propensity to commit offenses. We conclude that, even without the May 28 statements, the April 13 statements alone suggested that the trial court, who would be the fact finder in the upcoming juvenile proceedings, would consider the number of cases pending against a child as evidence against him in determining his guilt in any one case.”
SPIN CONTROL FROM STEVEN B. FEREN, THE POLITICIAN
Simply put, Judge Steven B. Feren did not like juvenile delinquents wasting his time. Feren did not want a youthful offender with multiple charges going to trial on a lesser charge. Feren did not like these kids fighting the charges. Feren warned that losing at trial would result in a guilty charge on your record and a stiff sentence on all charges.
Following the decision, Judge Steven Feren was moved from juvenile court to family court.
Does this sound like the guardian of Broward’s children? The offenders in juvenile court are often the most at-risk in our community. Broken homes, poverty, lack of schooling. These are the children that need a break. A wise judge, who takes the time, could spot the kids deserving of a chance. But even those children who don’t deserve a second or third chance have a Constitutionally protected right to maintain their innocence. They should not lose this right if it wastes Judge Steven B. Feren’s precious time.
Last week, Feren said, “I always thought when I was young that it would be really nice to someday when I grew up that I would able to help kids that who were in the same position that I was, to get a better break from life than I did.”
Sounds like politician Steven B. Feren hopes you never learn the record of Judge Steven B. Feren.