2008 - Seymour Gelber
2008 Selig Goldin Honoree
By Ivy R. Ginsberg
The Honorable Seymour Gelber began his legal career after graduating from the University of Miami School of Law in 1953 by working for State Senator Joseph Eaton in Tallahassee as a Legislative Aide. Although Seymour Gelber had been a high school drop out, special laws permitted World War II veterans to enter law school without an undergraduate degree. In 1956, Seymour Gelber began working as an Assistant State Attorney in Dade County, Florida under Richard Gerstein. Gelber served as an Administrator and his responsibilities included supervising attorneys, grand jury investigations, and serving as a liaison with the media. Gelber worked along side Richard Gerstein from 1956 through 1968 and was responsible for hiring many lawyers including Bob Butterworth, David M. Levy, and Janet Reno, among others.
Gelber informed Janet Reno that he had a special project for her after she joined the State Attorney’s Office. He put her in charge of setting up the Juvenile Court Division procedures after the Supreme Court’s decisions in In re Gault which entitled juveniles charged with crimes the right to counsel. Although he thought this would keep her busy for six months, in a month Reno had organized the Juvenile Division so that trials could be conducted for juveniles.
Gelber was known for his laid back, calm demeanor which balanced out the often fiery, assertive Gerstein. Gelber related how Gerstein had received a tip about a check that had to do with President Richard Nixon’s re-election. Gerstein assigned his investigator Martin Dardis to follow the check. Dardis’s investigation and connection to investigative reporters Woodward and Bernstein ultimately led to the Watergate hearings and the downfall of President Nixon.
Seymour Gelber then moved his family to Tallahassee, Florida and worked as an Assistant Attorney General under Attorney General Earl Faircloth. During that time period, Gelber earned a Masters Degree in Criminology at Florida State University in 1968 and a Ph.D in higher education in 1972. Gelber taught courses at Florida State University, University of Miami Law School, Florida International University and Nova University.
In 1974, Governor Reuben Askew appointed Seymour Gelber to the Circuit Court bench. Judge Gelber was assigned to the Juvenile Court Division and remained there his entire legal career. Judge Gelber was the Administrative Judge of the Division and professionalized the juvenile system from the days prior to In re Gault. He served alongside Judge William Gladstone until he was mandatorily required to retire at the age of 70 in 1990. During the 1980's, he served as Chairman of the Dade County Criminal Justice Council consisting of the heads of all the law enforcement agencies. They allocated the funds provided by federal and state agencies and conducted studies on pertinent issues.
In 1991, the Honorable Seymour Gelber was elected Mayor of Miami Beach and served three terms. Since 2001, Judge Gelber has served as a Senior Judge in Juvenile Court hearing Termination of Parental Rights cases and Child Support cases.
Judge Gelber is also an avid writer and has published many articles on criminal justice as well as six books covering the Juvenile Court and other areas of criminal justice. In 1988, he published his first book, Hard-Core Delinquents- the Miami Experiment which was published by the University of Alabama Press. He wrote several other books of events describing the political and criminal nature of those eras:
- Terrorism in Miami- the 1964 Shoemaker Bombing
- The 1972 Presidential Nominating Conventions in Miami Beach
- The Gelber Family Memoirs
- Mom and Pop Elect a Mayor
On Behalf of Children- A History of Judicial Activism in the Dade County Juvenile Court which was published jointly by the Historical Museum of Southern Florida and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Historical Society.
Judge Gelber is the father of three children, Judy, Dan, and Barbara. Judy was a former SEC Attorney in Washington, D.C. and currently teaches Social Studies at Krop Senior High School. Dan is a lawyer with Akerman, Senterfitt and the Minority Leader in the State House of Representatives, and Barbara is a head hunter for attorneys in the electronics field.