So many judges, so little time… welcome to the most mystifying section of the ballot.
It’s not all that mystifying, really. According to the Florida Bar, state law requires FL Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges to be placed on the ballot in nonpartisan elections every six years, “so voters can determine whether the judges or justices should remain on their courts for another six-year term.” It’s called a “merit retention” election, and according to many state media outlets the best source of info on the judges’ merit is… the Florida Bar, which polls its in-state members on judicial merits every two years. The lawyers’ verdict this year? All three Supreme Court justices and all 10 Second District Court of Appeal judges up for retention this year deserve to be voted in for another term.
The Bar’s approval means essentially that these guys and gals are all doing their jobs responsibly and ethically. It’s not about the decisions the judges made.
Still, it’s impossible for us to mark a yes next to the question, “Shall Justice Charles T. Canady of the Supreme Court be retained in office?” — not only because of his voting record on the court, but also because of his highly partisan past and scare-inducing future. A former U.S. Congressman, he was one of the House managers of the Clinton impeachment. An ardent opponent of abortion, he is credited with injecting the highly inflammatory (and widely misused) term “partial-birth abortion” into the national conversation. He was the only FL Supreme Court justice who disagreed that a death penalty verdict demands a unanimous jury.
And then there’s this: He’s on Donald Trump’s short list for the U.S. Supreme Court.
As for the others, a useful source is the BallotPedia site, which includes info on education, career, and political outlook as well recently published opinions. Ricky Polston (not a member of a boy band, despite his name) is rated almost as conservative as Canady, while Jorge Labarga is rated the least conservative of the three. He also won a Judicial Independence Award from the Florida Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and is the first Cuban-American to be named Florida’s Chief Justice. All three were appointed by once-upon-a-time-a-Republican-governor Charlie Crist.
Speaking of which, if the Bar endorsements are not enough info for you, consider the who-appointed-whom approach. For instance, if you’re not a Rick Scott fan (and who, really, is?), you could mark no on any of the appeals judges who are Scott appointees. Our handy guide below tells you who was brought aboard by Scott, Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist and (sigh) Lawton Chiles.
JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT
JUSTICE CHARLES T. CANADY
CL recommends: NO
JUSTICE JORGE LABARGA
CL recommends: YES
JUSTICE RICKY L. POLSTON
CL recommends: NO
FL Bar recommends: YES to all
2ND DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL
FL Bar recommends: YES to all.
CL recommends: Judge the judges by who appointed them (not necessarily a reliable indicator, but worth considering). Or look 'em up on BallotPedia. For instance, we found out Judge Northcutt is a former journalist. We like that in a guy, so we'd vote yes for him.
Judge John Badalamenti (Scott)
Judge Marva Crenshaw (Crist)
Judge Patricia J. Kelly (Bush)
Judge Nelly N. Khouzam (Crist)
Judge Matthew Lucas (Scott)
Judge Robert Morris (Crist)
Judge Stevan Northcutt (Chiles)
Judge Samuel Salario Jr. (Scott)
Judge Craig C. Villanti (Bush)
Judge Douglas Alan Wallace (Bush)