By Philip N. Kabler, Esq. – Bogin, Munns & Munns, P.A.
It is well known that one of the principal rights of American citizens is their right to vote.
Voters are used to participating in elections for the President, the Governor, and the federal and state legislatures. In Florida, voters also have the ability to elect Judges, either for “open seats” or to retain sitting Judges. (In certain circumstances, Judges can be appointed to vacant seats by the Governor, following proposals from local Judicial Nominating Commissions.)
The following judicial seats within Alachua County (Eighth Judicial Circuit) are subject to votes during the upcoming 2014 primary (August 26, 2014) and general (November 4, 2014) elections.
Group 1 – unopposed – Judge Robert K. Groeb (incumbent)
Group 7 – unopposed – Judge Phillip A. Pena
Group 11 – contested – Judge William E. Davis (incumbent), William Falik, Esq.
Group 13 – unopposed – Judge James P. Nilon (incumbent)
Group 2 – unopposed – Judge Denise Ferrero (incumbent)
Group 4 – contested – Susanne Wilson Bullard, Esq., AuBroncee Martin, Esq., Jose I. Moreno, Esq.
Who can be a County or Circuit Court Judge in Florida? Basically, any Florida lawyer who has been licensed at least five years, and is a local resident and elector. (Of course there are more details. If interested, please see Florida Constitution Article V, §8 and Florida Statute 34.021.)
So how does a voter decide?
Unlike many other elected officials, judicial candidates are heavily constrained in terms of their campaign activities. While judicial candidates may hold “meet and greets” or may attend “meet the candidates” events, they will not engage in debates or discuss legal issues, their prospective rulings on cases, or other candidates.
They will typically present their qualifications for the judicial offices they are seeking. Many judicial candidates also have internet and social media sites to support their campaigns.
Well-informed voters should take advantage of opportunities to know as much as they can about the background, experience, and temperament of the judicial candidates on the ballot.
One tool that voters can review are the results of the annual judicial poll conducted by the Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association, which evaluates judges who were seated during the past year. Local lawyers participate in the poll, and the results are compiled and released to the public during mid-July. The results are often reported in the local newspapers, and can also be found at http://www.8jcba.org/news.aspx.
Judges are crucial to the proper “check and balance” functioning of our national and state constitutional systems. Voters should take their votes for judicial officer candidates seriously, and should take advantage of the opportunities available to learn about the candidates. D