The Florida Bar announced Tuesday the results of a poll of Florida Bar members on the merit retention of three state Supreme Court justices and 28 appellate court judges.
In a written statement, Bar President William J. Schifino indicated overwhelming support for every single judge and justice to be retained, with recommendations ranging from 79 percent to 92 percent.
The confidential poll seeks to find whether attorneys who know the most about these jurists believe they should continue in their jobs. The retention election is on the ballot in the Nov. 8 general election.
“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,” Schifino said.
On its webpage “The Vote’s in Your Court”, 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 added that 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,” he said. “I’m proud of the part members of The Florida Bar play in helping to preserve our system of justice.”
This year’s poll results
For this year’s merit retention poll, 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 sent out 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.
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 1st 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 1st 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 judicial circuits 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 and 14.
For the 2nd 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 2nd DCA covers Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties. It includes judicial circuits 6, 10, 12, 13 and 20.
For the 3rd District Court of Appeal, poll results indicate support for retention of --
- Edwin A. Scales by 91 percent.
- Linda Ann Wells by 86 percent.
The 3rd DCA covers Miami-Dade (circuit 11) and Monroe (circuit 16) counties.
For the 4th 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 4th DCA covers the counties of Broward, Indian River, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Martin. It includes judicial circuits 15, 17 and 19.
For the 5th 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 5th DCA encompasses Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter and Volusia counties. It includes judicial circuits, 5, 7, 9 and 18.
How the system works
Justices and appeals court judges face the voters in merit retention elections every six years – except after their first appointments. 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 reviews 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 attached. 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.