Alcolya St. Juste, Caryn Siperstein run for circuit decide

When attorneys Caryn Siperstein and Alcolya St. Juste last ran for seats on the Palm Beach County circuit bench, their races were long, drawn out and occasionally contentious.

While this year’s match up promised to offer similar drama, that changed when sitting Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes abruptly bowed out.

Instead, the two women, who battled in separate three-person races two years apart, face only each other in the contest that will be decided Aug. 23.

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Common ground between candidates includes passing on Federalist Society

Siperstein, an assistant senior attorney general, and St. Juste, a longtime juvenile dependency lawyer who is in private practice, are focusing on their experience to woo voters.

Both have been attorneys for nearly 20 years. Both have served as mediators and arbitrators or special masters, hearing cases and deciding quasi-judicial matters.

Both applied to receive gubernatorial appointments to fill openings on the bench. Of the two, only St. Juste has made the cut.

On three occasions, once in 2015 and twice in 2019, a local judicial nominating commission put her on a short list of attorneys who should be considered.

While St. Juste wasn’t selected in 2015 by Gov. Rick Scott or four years later by Gov. Ron DeSantis, she said the accomplishment is significant.

“I have the distinct honor of not only having applied to the JNC but having been vetted by them,” St Juste said. “They have deemed me qualified and prepared to serve as a circuit court judge. … I am the only candidate who has been vetted.”

In 2019, she joined the Federalist Society, in part because membership in the conservative legal organization is seen as a way to gain favor with DeSantis, who supports the group’s ideals that state and federal constitutions should be interpreted literally.

Alcolya St. Juste is a candidate for Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge in the August 2022 election.

St Juste, 47, said she also wanted to widen her knowledge. But after a year, she let her membership lapse.

“I never really got very engaged in the organization,” she said. “I didn’t have the time to devote to it, so I didn’t renew.”

Siperstein, 46, said she was invited to attend a Federalist Society meeting in Orlando after she applied in February for appointment to the bench.

The meeting, filled with judges from around the state, was fascinating, she said. She remembered hearing talk about plans to overturn Roe v. Calf.

Ultimately, she said, she decided not to join.

“I wanted to be a judge, and I have to be fair and impartial,” she said. “It felt political to me. It wasn’t the right fit.”

One candidate represents public agencies, the other families in crisis

While both share a desire to serve on the bench, their personal and legal backgrounds are far different.

Siperstein, who ran for circuit judge in 2020, represents government officials and agencies in her work in the Attorney General’s Office.

St. Juste, who ran for judge in 2018, handles divorces, personal injury cases and other legal issues from her office in West Palm Beach. But with a practice that focuses on juvenile dependency matters, many of her clients are abused, abandoned or neglected children, or parents who face the possibility of losing their kids.

The work, she acknowledged, is often emotionally charged.

“It can sometimes pull at the heartstrings,” said St. Juste, who spent four years working for the Florida Department of Children and Families. “But the most important thing for me is that I don’t become emotional. I’m the representative. And so parents are going to be emotional. Children are going to be emotional. For me to do my best, I have to remain level-headed.”

Siperstein, who ran her own firm in New Jersey before moving to Palm Beach County 12 years ago, said she has broad knowledge of the law.

Caryn Siperstein is a candidate for Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge in the August 2022 election.

In her current job, she handles a wide variety of cases, ranging from personal injury to eminent domain to civil rights lawsuits, she said.

During the three years she spent as a full-time mediator for the county court system, she handled divorce, child custody, child support and time-sharing matters.

When she was in private practice in New Jersey, she said she drew up contracts for real estate and other business deals, and handled divorces and other family law matters. She also was appointed to represent poor people who were charged with crimes.

“I feel this experience well equips me and gives me an extra edge,” she said. “While I’ve been practicing law for 20 years and I have the benefit of government service, I also have experience in the private sector.”

Both candidates draw support from local attorneys, county civic leaders

St. Juste countered that she has other attributes Siperstein doesn’t have. Born in Boynton Beach, she is a lifelong Palm Beach County resident.

“I think it’s important that I’m a Palm Beach County native,” said St. Juste, who lives near her hometown of Boynton Beach. “I’m looking to bring my experience and my demeanor to Palm Beach County because Palm Beach County is home, and I care about Palm Beach County and making an impact.”

As a Black woman, she would also bring needed diversity to the bench. Only six of the 54 circuit and county judges in the county are black. Of those, three are among the 35 who serve in circuit court.

“I think it’s important that we have a judiciary that is reflective of the community which it serves,” she said. “I would like to bring that diversity, but also bring the qualifications that I’ve established throughout my career. I believe that we need quality as much as we need diversity to ensure that things are done appropriately.”

Seeing judges who look like them would also boost confidence among members of minority groups, who often disturb the judicial system, she said.

Siperstein agreed that diversity on the bench is important. She said she has participated in programs that are designed to encourage people of color to run for judgeships.

She worked as a part-time educator at the Donna Klein Academy west of Boca Raton and volunteers at her two daughters’ school. She said she has worked with and for people from all walks of life.

There are various ways to instill confidence in the judiciary, she said.

“(Diversity) also means how a judge is going to treat everyone, not just a specific group,” she said. “My goal is to treat everyone equally and fairly.”

St. Juste said she can sympathize with those who feel they won’t get a fair shake. She said she has experienced disparate treatment firsthand.

“We have the opportunity to either let it sour us or we can rise above it and work to be the change that we want to see,” she said. “What I like to do is be the change that I want to see, to ensure that no matter who comes before me, that they know that they were given that fair and equal opportunity.”

Both have earned endorsements from a variety of attorneys and civic leaders. Siperstein also touts the backing she has received from police and firefighter unions, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, the Hispanic Vote, the local office of the AFL-CIO and the National Organization for Women.

St. Juste has received about $56,500 in contributions compared to the roughly $46,000 Siperstein has raked in. But, Siperstein has contributed $95,200 to her election coffers while St. Juste has loaned her campaign about $19,500, according to recent campaign finance reports.

That means Siperstein has nearly $141,000 in her campaign war chest compared to the roughly $76,000 St. Juste has to spend.

Whoever wins the nonpartisan race will serve a six-year term. As a result of a recent legislative-approved raise, circuit judges make $182,060 annually.

Jane Musgrave covers federal and civil courts and occasionally ventures into criminal trials in state court. Contact her at [email protected].


Caryn Siperstein

Personnel: Married, two children; Lives in Delray Beach

Law Degree: Brooklyn Law School

Professional: Senior assistant attorney general, 2017-present; mediator Palm Beach County Circuit Court, 2014-2017; part-time director of Legal Studies at Donna Klein Academy in Boca Raton, 2013-2017; managing member of Siperstein Klein, Delray Beach, 2014-2017; managing member Siperstein Klein, New Jersey, 2006-2014.

Community Involvement: Education Board, City of Delray Beach, 2018-present; PTO president, American Heritage Upper School, 2022-2023; member of board of trustees, Donna Klein Jewish Academy, 2014-2018; cabinet member, South Palm Beach Jewish Federation Business and Professional Committee and Chair of Women’s Professional Group, 2015-2018; Junior League of Boca Raton, grant writing committee and fundraising committee 2018-2021.

Quote: “I have the right temperament, humility, extensive experience, and knowledge in multiple areas of the law to best serve our community.”

Alcolya St Juste

Personnel: Married, two children; lives near Boynton Beach

Law Degree: Nova Southeastern University

Professional: Managing member, St Juste Gordon, 2018-present; solo practitioner, 2007-2018; senior attorney, Florida Department of Children and Families, 2003-2007; serves as code compliance magistrate for Riviera Beach and previously served in similar capacity for Palm Beach County.

Community Involvement: Current board member, InnerCity Innovators, New Christian Life Church, Community Alliance of Palm Beach County, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, South Palm Beach County chapter; former board member, Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County, Lake Worth Christian School.

Quote: “There is more to being a judge than knowing the law. There is more to being an attorney than handling cases. Although these are important elements, as a judge and a lawyer, you are a public servant – a trusted member of society; someone endowed with the responsibility to uphold equality, fairness, and respect under the law.”

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