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Seven Candidates Vying for that Flagler County Judge Seat: The Live Interviews

| August 5, 2012

The seven candidates for Flagler County Judge looking to replace Sharon Atack and move into the building below. In alphabetical order from left, Don Appignani, Craig Atack, Josh Davis, Marc Dwyer, Sharon Feliciano, Melissa Moore-Stens, and W. Scott Westbrook. (© FlaglerLive)

The seven candidates for Flagler County Judge looking to replace Sharon Atack and move into the building below. In alphabetical order from left, Don Appignani, Craig Atack, Josh Davis, Marc Dwyer, Sharon Feliciano, Melissa Moore-Stens, and W. Scott Westbrook. (© FlaglerLive)

One of the lesser of the great Monty Python skits features Michael Palin and Eric Idle overdressed as a bewigged and accented magistrate and a lawyer walking out of the courtroom to the stately sound of brassy music. They then begin doffing the day’s wardrobe and pretensions, revealing themselves as flaming gay men who could barely contain their lust for a parade of apparently gorgeous lawyers they’d sustained all day. “After a bit all I could do is bang my little gavel,” goes Idle. That, from the cultural tradition that gave us Shakespeare’s homicidal suggestion about what to do with all the lawyers.

In Flagler County, the wings aren’t getting doffed. They’re getting primmed and powdered, the flying circus of the moment being a mostly humorless election for county judge. No less than seven more or less local lawyers have thrown in their lot to contend for the $134,000-a-year Flagler County Judge seat Sharon Atack is vacating at the end of the year. That’s one more lawyer than the six who ran for the four-county circuit judge position that opened in Flagler two years ago (Dennis Craig won it). The county judge position’s jurisdiction extends no further than Flagler’s borders.

Whoever wins this seat may be in it for a long time. Atack has occupied it since 1995. Her late husband held the seat for 14 years before he died of cancer. A county judge will directly affect the lives of thousands of residents in any given year. That makes it arguably the single most important election on the local ballot this year.

All registered voters in Flagler County may cast a vote in that race come Aug. 14, or during early voting, regardless of party affiliation: it’s a non-partisan race. Unlike, say, the school board race, whose candidates pretend to be non-partisan on paper while behaving like party hacks any other time, judicial candidates do a better job of hiding their political preferences.

The candidates are Don Appignani, Craig Atack (Sharon’s son), Josh Davis, Marc Dwyer, Sharon Feliciano, Melissa Moore-Stens and W. Scott Westbrook. If none of the candidates wins with 50 percent or more of the vote, then the top two vote-getters will head to a run-off in the Nov. 6 general election.

Each participated in the FlaglerLive interview, an original set of 14 questions supplemented with follow-ups. Lawyers–these lawyers, anyway–know their English. They know how to turn the occasional phrase, as when Dwyer wrote of how his father’s temperament informed his: “His natural coolness which I inherited, and the example of patience he set being married to my fiery Mother for 51 years is mostly responsible.”

And they can think, often past cliches and rehearsed answers, though there were quite a few of those. Most of the candidates pretended not to have prejudices, which ranks them in a rare class of their own in the history of humanity, and most said that the salary had little to nothing to do with their desire to run (Appignani was the exception: he was candid enough to say that at his age, nearing 60, the pension, rather than the salary, had something to be said for it). All but one refused to assess the other candidates, as asked. Westbrook was the exception, providing a cleverly critical verdict on each of his opponents to contrast his qualities against theirs.

The candidate’s complete answers have been provided, edited only for style. They were asked about their temperament, their judicial philosophy (few answered that one), their experience in civil law, their ego (“Perhaps only an egotist can assess the scale of his or her own ego,” Feliciano said), their strategies dealing with litigants or defendants representing themselves, how they intend to weigh witnesses’ credibility, and so on. They are free to add to their answers if they so choose, but not to edit out anything once the answers have posted.

Each Candidate has his or her own page. Pull up to a mug of dark roast and click through:

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24 Responses for “Seven Candidates Vying for that Flagler County Judge Seat: The Live Interviews”

  1. PalmCoast says:

    @ Irwin Connelly:

    Your thoughts I found enlightening, even if I disagree. ALL candidates running no matter for what position and for that position salary to paid with taxpayers dollars-taxpeyers/voters have a right to be informed. Flagler live did a GREAT job in asking appropriate questions for the position at hand per the article! Just as our currency states “In God We Trust” religious beliefs are an interlingual part of our over all system. That can not be denied. Reviewing the questions asked I do not feel Flalger Live was “out to bait” candidates! Flagler Live put a questioner together with the strategy (I would assume-but as viewed by the questions) from what a voter might ask a candidate if that candidate was in front of them. I again applaud Flagler Live for given ALL citizens of the community an opportunity to view the candidates answers. This is especially important for someone like myself who is home bound and not able to get to functions held in the community. This was a great way for me to be informed!!
    I think the response to the questions is more a compare and contrast as I did not see ANY candidate “criticize” another candidate in the readings of answers by the candidates. Factual accounts are not criticism! Now if you are speaking of criticism by posters Flagler Live is allowing the citizens of this community a voice! Flagler Live has opened themselves up to posters causing much oversight to posts verse individual first amendment rights of freedom of speech. I fully applaud Flagler Live for trying to balance the scales to information given to voters and posted comments!!! TY again Flagler Live for giving voters not only the opportunity to view candidates but also for allowing comments from posters!

    This statement is for me going down in my history book…Irwin I sure hope you don’t mind me stealing your comment!!…my name is Lorraine McAdams and I stand by and approve of this comment.


    • Irwin Connelly says:

      Bottom line is this – Flagler Live has done a great job in sparking a great conversation. We’re lucky to have F.L. as a unique alternative to the pablum press otherwise available. Most days after reading the local paper I wonder why I keep wasting my time doing so. I like the comics, I guess.


  2. Dorothea says:

    I doubt there is anyone more informed about the ins and outs of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, and in particular, Flagler County, than Mr. Connelly. His pro bono work on behalf of the poor speaks to his dedication to bringing justice to those among us who cannot afford lawyers.

    As a former employee in a south Florida judicial system, I was shocked at how local Flagler County judges ruled by their biases without regard to Florida law. I have seen parental rights terminated because an affluent white “Christian” couple wanted to adopt the child of a black parent. I have seen a young man (black) subjected to punishment, while his co-defendant (white) walked off free in a bench trial. I have seen a hard-working, but poor, young couple forced to move out of their home because a former deputy didn’t want them living next door to him based on little evidence and blustering accusations. In another custody case a local judge kept continuing the case month after month, while the child, an infant when it began remained with the prospective adoptive parents. Mercifully, the judge went on vacation and a no nonsense retired judge sat in for him, making a final determination, based on Florida law, and returned the child to its natural parents. I could go on ad nauseum. Without lawyers like Mr. Connelly I would have seen much worse.

    FlaglerLive, for the most part I agree with Mr. Connelly’s comments about the questions. While I found the questions you asked very informative, I think some of them were not unbiased and based on your personal prejudices. But this is your site and you have every right to do so. I do suggest, however, that you take Mr. Connelly’s expert opinion seriously.

    I stand by and approve of my comment, but I remain Dorothea.


    • Rob Whiting says:


      Thanks for the information provided. Those of us who have no dealings with the courts don’t have a clue as to what is going on in the courtrooms of this county. I am well informed and know who I will vote for; but, I find myself having to do quite a bit of research and digging to determine who will get my vote for this very important position.

      Again, thanks.


  3. PalmCoast says:

    @ Dorothea:
    Well said Dorothea to your factual accounts occurring in courtrooms bares more reasoning to fully know your candidate prior to voting. And again Flagler Live gave us all the opportunity to get know about the candidates though the posted articles/questions!! I believe the questions asked where important information that voters need to make a sound selection prior to election. Whether you feel the questions were based in bias or not the candidates own responses are the information voters needed. Not all questions asked to any candidate should be only “softball questions”. Dealings in the courtroom daily are not only “softball issues”. Candidates for a trying position as Judge, will be required to deal with sometimes very “hardball” issues! If candidates can not handle the heat of a few questions to topics that are posed to them as candidates….then they need to get of the kitchen. (IMO)


  4. Michael Stens says:

    I was wrong when I included your name on Melissa Moore Stens’ comment page. I apologize for my error. I was responding to the negative attacks against Melissa. You’re not part of the negativity and hidden agenda of those other posters I mentioned.

    Michael Stens


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