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September 15, 2016
Lawyers rate jurists facing retention vote

Florida lawyers overwhelmingly recommend the retention of Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Charles T. Canady and Ricky L. Polston, and the 28 district courts of appeal judges up for merit retention on the November 8 ballot, according to results of The Florida Bar’s biennial merit retention judicial poll.

Poll results this year show the three Supreme Court justices gaining an average approval rating of 86.3 percent. The 28 appellate judges on the ballot also received very positive marks, with approval ranging from 79 to 92 percent.

Bill Schifino “Every two years since 1978, Florida’s lawyers have taken part in an effort to help voters understand the merit retention process and guide them as they assess the justices and judges whose names appear on the ballot,” Florida Bar President Bill Schifino said.

On its webpage “The Vote’s in Your Court” (www.floridabar.org/thevotesinyourcourt), the Bar offers its “Guide for Florida Voters,” bios of the justices and judges facing a merit retention vote, videos, and links to more information.

“The merit retention poll is one more resource, and an important one,” Schifino said. “It tells voters how attorneys who practice before Florida’s appeals courts view the men and women who judge cases and interpret Florida law.”

Schifino said he was not surprised by the positive results of the poll.

“The judicial nominating commissions that recommend candidates to the governor do an excellent job of finding fair and qualified justices and judges,” Schifino said. “I’m proud of the part that members of The Florida Bar play in helping to preserve our system of justice.”

A ballot mailed in August to all lawyers residing and practicing in Florida asked whether the incumbent appeals court justices and judges should be retained. Lawyers taking part in the poll were asked to consider eight attributes in making their decisions: quality and clarity of judicial opinions; knowledge of the law; integrity; judicial temperament; impartiality; freedom from bias/prejudice; demeanor; and courtesy.

The Bar mailed 74,859 ballots to in-state members in good standing, and 5,967 lawyers participated. Only responses by lawyers indicating considerable or limited knowledge of the justices or judges were included in the poll results.

The Results

For the Florida Supreme Court, poll results indicate support for retention of:

      · Charles T. Canady by 84 percent.

      · Jorge Labarga by 91 percent.

      · Ricky L. Polston by 84 percent.

For the First District Court of Appeal, poll results indicate support for retention of:

      · Ross Bilbrey by 82 percent.

      · Susan Kelsey by 81 percent.

      · Lori S. Rowe by 79 percent.

      · Kent Wetherell by 82 percent.

      · Bo Winokur by 79 percent.

      · Jim Wolf by 89 percent.

The First DCA covers the counties of Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Calhoun, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Nassau, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Wakulla, Walton, and Washington. It includes the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Eighth, and 14th circuits.

For the Second District Court of Appeal, poll results indicate support for retention of:

      · John Badalamenti by 87 percent.

      · Marva L. Crenshaw by 87 percent.

      · Patricia J. Kelly by 86 percent.

      · Nelly N. Khouzam by 91 percent.

      · Matt Lucas by 89 percent.

      · Robert Morris by 91 percent.

      · Stevan Travis Northcutt by 92 percent.

      · Samuel Salario, Jr., by 88 percent.

      · Craig C. Villanti by 90 percent.

      · Douglas Alan Wallace by 88 percent.

The Second DCA covers Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, and Sarasota counties. It includes the Sixth, 10th, 12th, 13th, and 20th circuits.

For the Third District Court of Appeal, poll results indicate support for retention of:

      · Edwin A. Scales by 91 percent.

      · Linda Ann Wells by 86 percent.

The Third DCA covers Miami-Dade (11th Circuit) and Monroe (16th Circuit) counties.

For the Fourth District Court of Appeal, poll results indicate support for retention of:

      · Cory J. Ciklin by 89 percent.

      · Dorian K. Damoorgian by 89 percent.

      · Jonathan D. Gerber by 92 percent.

      · Robert M. Gross by 91 percent.

      · Spencer D. Levine by 86 percent.

      · Melanie G. May by 90 percent.

The Fourth DCA covers the counties of Broward, Indian River, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, and Martin. It includes the 15th, 17th, and 19th circuits.

For the Fifth District Court of Appeal, poll results indicate support for retention of:

      · Jay Cohen by 86 percent.

      · James A. Edwards by 86 percent.

      · Brian Lambert by 83 percent.

      · Vincent G. Torpy, Jr., by 87 percent.

The Fifth DCA encompasses Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia counties. It includes the Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and 18th circuits.

How It Works

Justices and appeals court judges face the voters in merit retention elections every six years – except after their first appointment. Newly appointed justices and appeals court judges serve an initial term of at least one year and are then subject to the first merit retention review of their performances in the next general election.

Only those judges receiving approval from a majority of the voters in the general election may continue in office for another six-year term. If voters choose not to retain a judge, a vacancy would be created and would be filled through the merit selection process, in which the governor would appoint one from three to six nominees submitted by a judicial nominating commission. Terms are staggered so that not all of the appellate judges face the voters in the same election.

The poll was conducted for The Florida Bar by Elections Services Co. (ESC) of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., which since 1989 has conducted thousands of elections for unions, stockholders, credit unions, membership organizations, universities, and trade and professional organizations. Florida Bar members eligible to vote were given personal identification numbers by ESC, which were used only for verification and to ensure that each member could vote only one time. All ballot votes are confidential, with no identification of the voters. The Florida Bar provides the poll results and educational information as a public service and does not endorse or support the judges on the ballot.

Other Resources

In addition to the merit retention poll results, The Florida Bar has additional resources for educating voters on “The Vote’s in Your Court” webpage. Included on the page are the “Guide for Florida Voters” in English and Spanish; bios of all the appellate judges on the ballot this year; and judicial candidate self-disclosure statements, which allow trial court judges to put their qualifications and statements about why they want to serve as judges. Here’s how to check out those resources:

· The Vote’s in Your Court web page – www.floridabar.org/thevotesinyourcourt.
· The Guide for Florida Voters. To request copies of the guide, please email votersguide@floridabar.org
· Judicial Candidate Voluntary Bar Self Disclosure Statements – www.floridabar.org/judicialcandidates.

[Revised: 01-17-2017]