"I was sitting in the jury, and I wanted to rule," said Stuzin, who was appointed to the Miami-Dade County Court bench earlier this year. "I remember thinking in my head, 'I would sustain this. I would overrule that. I would do this. I would do that.' And I was like, 'I think I'm ready.' "
By then, Stuzin had been a lawyer for 20 years. But sitting as an alternate juror pushed her to try for the bench.
"I had looked at the JNC application many times and never downloaded it," she said. "It sounds very cliche, but that night I went home and I printed it. And I said, 'I want to do it.' "
"For some reason … I remember [age 7]. I remember my dad coming home in his suit and knowing that he was an attorney," she said. "I think my personality lent itself to that anyway. I was a talkative person. I wasn't scared to get out and public speak. So I thought, 'I want to be a lawyer'—partly because of him and partly because of my personality. And I never changed. I never went back and forth."
So she prepared herself from middle school on.
"I did debate. I loved it. It was like my sport," she said.
Stuzin went to the University of Michigan to study political science. She came back to South Florida to get her law degree at the University of Miami and landed an internship at the Miami-Dade state attorney's office.
"I got to do two trials and I was in county court in my third year of law school—two DUI cases—and I loved it. I thought it was awesome. I was really excited to go to trial," she said.
By the end of the internship, Stuzin had made up her mind.
"That's when I decided I wanted to be a prosecutor."
She joined the office as an assistant state attorney when she graduated. Miami-Dade County Court Judge Gloria Gonzalez-Meyer was in the same group of hires at the state attorney's office. So was Daniel Bernstein, a young attorney who would go on to become a federal prosecutor and her husband.
Stuzin worked her way up, prosecuting everything from misdemeanors to life felonies, handling more than 80 trials, including 50 jury trials to verdict.
"I loved being in trial more than anything."
After four years, though, she left.
"I specifically switched so I could go to civil practice," she said. "I wanted to make sure that I kept up my writing skills. And I wanted to make sure they kept up my legal skills. As a prosecutor you don't do a lot of writing and you don't do a lot of research."
Stuzin spent a year at one firm, then went to Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, where she stayed until she took the bench, mostly defending personal injury cases, along with about 20 criminal defense cases.
Two decades into her career, Stuzin got picked for jury duty and applied for the bench. Gov. Rick Scott appointed her in March.
"I feel comfortable. I feel like it's been relatively smooth transition," she said.
"I don't like attorneys to speak over each other. When they do, I'll instruct them not to. I will ask him to let the other person speak. I don't like people speaking over me. If they try to head up evidence I don't just let them approach me. I make them give it to the bailiff who will then hand it up to me," Stuzin said. "That's what I learned in circuit court. There's a process. And even though we're in county court I try to run it as if we were in the formality of a circuit court."
She's done it that way even with pro se litigants, guiding them through opening statements, cross-examinations and closing arguments.
"My mentality is, I'm here to follow certain laws and enforce certain rules, and I'm going to do it no matter what," said Stuzin
Still, she said she's flexible.
"The thing that comes easy for me is being decisive and then listening, listening to both sides and letting them both have access to the record and not jumping in and telling someone what I think too fast," she said.
And whenever she can, Stuzin said she gives parties extra time to argue the case if they need it.
"If there's ever any cancellations and I know I've got the time, I never restrict someone's time," she said. "I let them go on a little longer."
Source: Carlos Harrison, Daily Business Review July 17, 2015