JOEL T. LAZARUS was born on July 5, 1942, shortly after the onset of WWII. He grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts with his father Bernard, mother Liebe, and his older brother Richard, who died in a tragic accident in 1956. In 1963, he married Shirley Mintz, with whom he had three sons: Keith, Craig and Brian.
He graduated from Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Following a move to New York City, he earned his MBA, with a major in Finance, from Columbia University School of Business. Joel worked in the investment field for eight years, eventually opening his own small investment advisory firm in Brockton, Massachusetts. In 1972, the family relocated to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where he lived the remainder of his life.
Joel and Shirley divorced after twenty-two years of marriage. In 1988, he married Sharon Hudson and five years later his daughter Amy was born. Joel was the proud patriarch of a close and loving family. He is survived by his wife, Sharon, his four children, six grandchildren, and Dustin, his beloved dog named for All-Star Red Sox second baseman, Dustin Pedroia.
An Accomplished Career in Law
In 1974, while seeking a career change, Joel enrolled in the charter class of Nova University Center for the Study of Law (now named Nova Southeastern Law School). He graduated with High Honors. After passing the bar, he became an Assistant State Attorney for Dade County, Florida in 1977, later taking a position with the Broward County State Attorney’s Office. During his time as an Assistant State Attorney, Joel dedicated himself to ensuring that victims of crime received the best representation his office could provide.
Over the next fifteen years, his assignments were varied: trial prosecutor, felony division supervisor, assistant to the chief of felonies, and founder of the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit. He then was assigned to the Career Criminal Unit. For the last five years of his career as a prosecutor, Joel served as Assistant State Attorney-in-Charge of the Organized Crime Unit.
In 1993, he was appointed to the position of County Court Judge by the late Governor Lawton Chiles. He was elected and reelected in 1994, 1998, and 2004, all without opposition. Mandatory retirement age in Florida mandated his leaving the bench as an elected official in 2010. His "retirement" lasted for one day only, and on July 1, 2010, Judge Lazarus returned to the judiciary as Senior Judge. In his twenty-six plus years of active judicial service, Judge Lazarus presided over more than 900 jury trials, from DUI's to Murder in the First Degree.
Judge Lazarus was the founder of the Young Offender DUI program, in conjunction with the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office, a program that was replicated and presented to high schools throughout south Florida.
During his many years on the bench, Judge Lazarus continued to be involved in numerous community activities: he was Chairman of the Ft. Lauderdale High School Pre-law Magnet Program's advisory board; he was an honorary board member of Kids in Distress; he was active in teaching at all levels of schools; he was active in the Florida Law Related Education Association. He taught for over fourteen years in the Criminal Justice Program at Broward College courses in criminal law twice being nominated for Adjunct Professor of the year. For twenty-plus years he has been a member of the faculty at the Gerald Bennett Prosecutor-Public Defender Trial Advocacy program at the University of Florida Law School. In 2010, he was presented with the Harvey Ford Award as "outstanding county court judge" in Florida for his years of dedicated service, the highest achievement a county court judge in Florida could attain, recognized by his 350+ county court colleagues across the state. In 2012, he was given a special award: the first annual Lifetime Achievement Award by the Broward County Crime Commission. In 2013, he was honored by the Florida Bar with the “2013 Outstanding Service Award…for lifetime achievements in the advancement and promotion of law related education and exemplary leadership in the Florida High school Mock Trial Program.” He served in the courtroom until his retirement January 31, 2019. Most recently he served as a Florida Supreme Court certified county and civil mediator, and qualified arbitrator. Throughout his long career, Joel Lazarus displayed a strong love for the law in general, and the courtroom in particular, as well as a dedication to teaching and mentoring.
A Life Well-Lived
As a prosecutor, Joel vigorously represented the victims, many too young or unable to defend themselves. As a judge, he endeavored to ensure all litigants were given a fair hearing. As a husband, he strove to be a supportive partner, taking pride in Sharon’s accomplishments during her long career with the Broward Sheriff's office and as a therapist. As a father, he tried to ensure his own children always strove “to do the right thing.” As a grandfather, he loved with all his heart and aimed to be an example of a life well-lived.
And while it may not have been his most important role, Judge Joel T. Lazarus would want the world to know that he lived and died a diehard Boston Red Sox fan.