An article posted by the Daily Business Review goes into the details of Linda Alley’s rise to the bench, capturing 56% of the vote compared to the incumbent’s roughly 44%.
Written by Michael A. Mora
The votes were coming “fast and furious” on the evening of Aug. 18, as Linda Alley was awaiting the final results in the Broward County judicial election.
“Am I winning?” Alley frequently asked her campaign manager, Judy Stern.
Alley, 68 years old, is a veteran malpractice attorney at Kelley | Uustal in Fort Lauderdale and was then a candidate against Broward Circuit Court Judge Vegina “Gina” Hawkins for the Group 50 judicial seat.
And then Robert Kelley, the founding partner of Kelley | Uustal, called Alley to inform her of her lead in the race.
“I told Linda because I was at the Broward County Elections” office, Kelley said. “It was too early to call the race at that point. She had such a substantial margin, with 220,000 votes already cast. I thought she was going to win.”
As the night progressed, the vote tally went increasingly in Alley’s favor. And supporters poured in to congratulate the new judge.
But for Alley, it was not until the next morning when the reality of the election results settled in.
“When I went to get ready, I saw myself in the mirror and said: ‘You’re a judge!’ And that was the first minute I thought, ‘I really am,’ ” Alley said.
Alley, who will soon don the black judicial robe, overcame a history of adversity by demonstrating a relentless work ethic that allowed the Broward County attorney to reach the height of her profession. Along the way, she learned pivotal lessons, starting when at 16 years old, she was detained for shoplifting.
That moment taught Alley that good people could make mistakes.
Fortunately, her parents resolved the incident for their daughter. About two decades later, Alley faced what she said was another unexpected obstacle — this time as an adult.
Alley, who worked at AT&T, had to find a new job after the federal government broke up the company as part of its divestiture plan in 1985. Two years later, the financial problems caused by her job loss and a disagreement with her landlord led her to file personal bankruptcy.
That is when Alley, who previously earned her associate’s degree at Broward College, decided to return to her studies. This time, she enrolled in a paralegal program. After completing the program, Alley put her education to work by taking a job as a paralegal at Sheldon J. Schlesinger P.A. in Fort Lauderdale.
However, Alley still intended to earn a bachelor’s degree and decided to enroll at Florida Atlantic University. While taking courses to obtain a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in history, Alley met Florida Atlantic University Professor Dr. Stephen Engle, a man whose words of wisdom would have a lasting impact on her life. Engle, then an associate professor of history, had Alley in nearly all of the college courses he taught. Engle soon realized her potential.
“ So, I pulled her aside one evening after class, and we started talking and she said she was a paralegal for Schlesinger,” Engle recalled. “I said, ‘I hate to say this because I don’t want to be a person putting another attorney in the world, but you probably are smarter than the people you work for. If you ever thought about going on for a law degree, I’m sure you’re going to be working for the people who employed you because they wouldn’t want to be against you.’”
Engle told Alley, who was then 42 years old, to consider enrolling in law school. Soon after Alley graduated, that was just what she did. Alley enrolled at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Just as she had at Florida Atlantic University, Alley graduated with honors.
“And then she sends me her business card in the mail one day and sure enough, she’s working for Schlesinger,” Engle said. “And I thought, ‘What an incredible story.’ I just knew she was that smart and talented.”
Alley worked at Schlesinger for the next 18 years. For 10 of these years, she worked with Valerie Conzo, who was then an associate at Schlesinger, and now has a private practice in Fort Lauderdale. Conzo recalls Alley’s dedication to her cases and passion for the law.
“We worked on a lot of medical malpractice cases that are very intricate and detailed-oriented. You had to search through the medical records a lot of times to find one piece of evidence that was going to change the whole complexion of the case or help prove our case,” Conzo said. “And she would leave no stone unturned to help find that evidence.”
After those 18 years, Alley worked briefly at Lawlor, White & Murphey before switching to her present employer, Kelley | Uustal. There, Alley spent her first-year consulting with clients for potential medical malpractice cases so she could evaluate the facts supporting the claims and decide whether to investigate further.
The next two years were dedicated to the tobacco team at the Fort Lauderdale law firm. Before 2018 in Broward County, only one judge handled the Engle progeny cases, but that soon changed when Chief Judge Jack Tuter distributed the cases to all of the Broward Circuit Court civil judges.
Alley said some clients have been waiting for almost a decade to have the court hear their case. So Kelley | Uustal developed an ambitious plan to try one case a month. In that role, Alley did everything to have the cases prepared for trial over two years.
Kelley was impressed by Alley’s success and the passion she showed in medical negligence cases through her attention to detail, similar to Conzo’s recollection.
“Any of those medical negligence cases have gotten multimillion-dollar verdicts,” Kelley said. “And the way she’s done it is that she just digs into the medical records and just learns everything she can about the medicine and facilities and doctors involved in the case.”
Despite hitting her stride in her private practice, Alley felt she needed to serve the public. Then in 2018, Florida voters raised the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75. That change, which would now allowed her to serve more than five years as a judge, encouraged Alley to seek the position in Broward County, Group 50.
Alley faced a competitor, incumbent Judge Vegina “Gina” Hawkins, who was a well-regarded prosecutor in the Broward State Attorney’s Office before former Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed her to the bench in November 2018.
But Hawkins was under investigation for allegedly grabbing a subordinate by the neck and shaking him. Adding to Hawkins’ legal woes, the June 2019 incident was captured on camera. Hawkins was suspended without pay by the Florida Supreme Court.
In Alley’s candidacy, she received support from the Fraternal Order of Police District 5, and The Hispanic Vote.
Alley’s reputation and her support in the community ultimately led to her capturing 56% of the vote, compared to the incumbent’s roughly 44%.
For Conzo, Alley’s victory in the Group 50 judicial election is a testament to the power of hard work.
Conzo said, “Her actions and experiences demonstrate to everyone it is never too late to pursue your dreams and accomplish your goals.”
Linda A. Alley
Born: 1951, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Children: Sarah, Brad
Education: J.D, University of Florida, Levin College of Law; B.A. Florida Atlantic University
Experience: Kelley | Uustal 2017-present; Sheldon J. Schlesinger P.A, 1998-2016