MIAMI | For the past three years, Judge Cindy Lederman has walked by a half-dozen statues of playful bear cubs every day on her way up to her high-ceilinged, top-floor office looking out toward Miami’s waterfront. On a shelf behind her desk, below rows of glass awards and family photos, sit two teddy bears. In six months, she’ll take them with her and walk past the statues for the last time.
The stuffed bears are from a program the retiring judge helped start 20 years ago to give every child who came to juvenile court a teddy bear. The building, Miami-Dade County’s three-year-old children’s courthouse, and its bear statutes — meant to be played with by those same unlucky children who find themselves needing court hearings — were a project she began working on with colleagues more than a decade ago to replace Miami-Dade’s previous and notoriously horrible children’s courthouse.
Lederman’s legacy stretches far beyond bears. During her 25-year tenure as a juvenile court judge, including a decade as the court’s top judge, she’s ruled in some of the most important cases to pass through, including her decision to strike down the state’s gay adoption ban.
In 2008, in a case that happened behind closed doors, Lederman struck down Florida’s ban on gay adoption. Lederman had a case where a gay man wanted to adopt his foster child. Under Florida law, she could grant him a permanent guardianship instead. Lederman chose not to. She refused to close the case and a four-day trial ensued. A lawyer from the ACLU came down to represent the would-be adoptive father, an expert from the U.K. flew in to testify. Her ruling, later upheld by an appellate court, made national news.
For Lederman it came down to science.
“What is the science in terms of ‘are gay and lesbian parents horrible human beings and they destroy their children or not?’ Of course not. And the science was very clear,” she said.
Now, the science is even stronger. And she sees case after case of gay and lesbian parents adopting, bringing children out of the child welfare system and into loving homes.
“It’s just such a beautiful thing. They cherish these children,” she said.
Originally from the Philadelphia area, Lederman came to Florida for college and never left. She’s always kept busy. Between caseloads sometimes as heavy as 23 a day, to giving presentations or writing articles, her schedule is full. But she is finding time to learn the violin, practice French and tend her garden.
Lederman’s last day will be Dec. 21.