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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. initialjoe says:

    Can I just say THANK YOU for putting these up here and for interviewing the candidates. I never know how to vote for a judge but you have made it easier for me. THANK YOU THANK YOU.

  2. Anita says:

    I agree with the sentiments of the previous poster. At least I now know which candidates I won’t even consider. Thank you.

  3. Dadgum says:

    Just another good reason for all to vote. Thank you FlaglerLive for your diligence and hard work. The check is in the mail.

  4. Ray Thorne says:

    The Josh Davis signs in every comment is ridiculous.

  5. Maryjoe says:

    Thank you. This was very interesting! It really assisted me in reaffirming who I will be voting for. And should there be a run-off I’m pretty much educated on the people running. Thanks, great job!

  6. Eleanor says:

    And may I ask where Josh Davis was when it was time to turn in his answers??

  7. Dorothea says:

    Thank you FlalgerLive for going all out getting the information.

    Some of the individual comments seemed more like the writers were dissing the opponents of their chosen candidate rather than making reasonable comments. Here is Canon 7 that some candidates referred to:

    http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/ethics/canon7.shtml

    County Court is sometimes called the “People’s Court.” It is often the first stepping stone for those seeking a career in the judiciary. From there county court judges may go to Circuit Court, and on up the ladder to the Florida Supreme Court or even on to the Federal Court system. The only judgeship lower than the County Court is an Administrative Law Judge or General Master. They are not elected judges, but attornies hired by the court to hear cases. Therefore I would find any comment that someone is too young to be a county court judge or never heard of before somewhat naive. They have to start somewhere and what better place than a small county court system.

  8. w.ryan says:

    An informed decision is usually a good decision. Thanks Pierre and Flaglerlive for providing us with this information.

  9. PalmCoast says:

    @ Dorothea
    TY for sharing the link for information on the Canon 7 rule.
    As I read the rule of Canon 7 there was no reason why most candidates did not address question 13 of Flagler Live’s questioner to them.
    I do believe with any event in life……age and experience does out weigh youth! (IMO)

  10. PalmCoast says:

    TY Flagler Live GREAT insight into the candidates!!

  11. Gram says:

    This effort is to be commended. I wish this were done for the position of Supervisor of Elections. I don’t understand how that position is a political position. It seems to me the county person in charge of elections should maintain an impartiality similar to that of a judge.

    • Kimble Medley says:

      Gram -

      I agree with all of your points. I am thankful to Flaglerlive for posting this. It provides voters with a wealth of information from which to make an informed decision. I, too, wish a similar process had been offered to the Supervisor of Elections candidates, including the incumbent. I would have participated. Perhaps there were simply too many candidates / races and not enough time. Until the law changes, this office allows for partisan candidates. I share your belief that it should be non partisan as the occupant must serve all voters and be willing to work with all of the local parties and other organizations. The candidates for Supervisor of Elections have websites and I have posted a video for those voters who cannot attend the forums. I hope this helps a bit with your decision making process for the office of Supervisor of Elections.

  12. Karmen says:

    It is incredibly interesting that only one candidate should provide assessment of his running mates. Independent of one’s understanding of Canon 7, each candidate chose to focus on his/her experience and ability to fulfill the needs of the county rather than to utilize the question as an opportunity to build his/her esteem on the backs of others. Furthermore, it is rather telling that Mr. Westbrook should begin many of his statements with the assertion that he has had little interaction with another candidate, but has not qualms with plowing ahead with his judgement. This is a man that is assuring the public that he is free of prejudice and the best person to render judgements that will alter lives; yet he is freely passing judgement of people with whom he admits having little knowledge of. Personally, that doesn’t seem to indicate an unbiased and open forum to me. Also, precisely how does one speak to a more diverse life when he has already indicated that his knowledge of someone is based upon a professional relationship of a few years? I also find it odd that he should comment on the number of times that he has encountered other attorneys in Flagler County Court. Has Mr. Westbrook really been keeping a running tally over the years? Did he survey every courtroom on every day that court was in session? If you’re that busy keeping attendance records for other attorneys, then how are you providing the best service possible to your clients? Frankly, this perfunctory, baseless judgement rings of a pretentious cowardice set upon building personal gain through negative attention rather than relying on an obviously lacking positive skill set. I am completely put off by such a classless display. We constantly complain about the vicious campaigning that takes place at election time. It’s time that we demonstrate that distaste by selecting a candidate that truly campaigns based upon his/her beliefs and ability to step up to the task at hand. I applaud the other candidates’ refusal to participate in tearing down another person for their own gain, and shame Mr. Westbrook for taking advantage of this opportunity to spread contempt and discouragement.

  13. PalmCoast says:

    @Karmen
    Mr. Westbrook answered “all” questions posed to him by Flagler Live openly and honestly. It appears many “campaigners” are posting negatives to Mr. Westbrook out of fear that certain campaigners/candidates view him as a threat to their own campaign/candidate (and with good reason). All had the opportunity to answer the same questions posed to them…some chose not to answer, some chose to recite rules, some chose to say they know each other and that is all. We as voters and taxpayers who will be paying the judges salary deserve to know all the candidates in full transparency…I applaud Mr. Westbrook for his openness, honesty and frankness. I am glad that Flagler Live gave all residents the opportunity to get to know all the candidates….what the candidates chose to include in their answers was up to each candidate. Being that Mr. Westbrook took the time and effort to answer questions presented to him and used the opportunity to inform voters clearly gives me an understanding into how effective he will be as a judge!

  14. Irwin Connelly says:

    I agree with those praising Flagler Live for conducting this forum for judicial candidates. However, I have do have a criticism of the some of the issues Flagler Live raised (or tried to raise) in its posed questions.

    First, although I agree that Canon 7 does not explicitly prohibit candidates from criticizing each other I commend most of the candidates who refrained from doing so, regardless of the reason. In this era of negative campaigning at every level it was refreshing to hear some of the candidates not only refuse to take Flagler Live’s bait (no pun intended), but stepped up and actually had complimentary things to say about the other candidates. I was disappointed that in at least one instance, Flagler Live felt compelled to comment in a flippant fashion (“…that’s nice, but there’s no attempt to answer the question”) on one of the candidates who, rather than being lured into starting up the negativity actually thanked the others for having the courage to put themselves before the electorate,. Particularly troublesome was Flagler Live’s suggesting that the basis for a candidate’s possible negative comments might be things the candidate may have heard about another candidate through the “grapevine.” Really? Good on those candidates who chose not to start the mudslinging. To have done otherwise would have evidenced a lack of fairness, judicial temperament and maturity that voters should be looking for in this race.

    Secondly, interjecting religion and requiring candidates to specify those beliefs (“What role does religion play in your personal life…” treads on dangerous grounds. I feel Flagler Live could have framed that issue in a manner that did not interject religion, per se, into the discussion. Thankfully most of the candidates avoided pandering on the issue. I believe that the editor came from an area of the world (Lebanon) where the mix of politics, law and religion have devastated one of the most beautiful cities on earth. Why even loosen the lid on that Pandora’s Box, when the question could have been framed along lines of ethics and personal integrity?

    Asking for sources (candidates, in this instance) to provide “facts” based on having heard something through the “grapevine” and (even if your motive was good and your intent different) bringing in candidates’ personal religious beliefs, inviting pandering of the worst sort, are matters I would expect to find in the mainstream media. Flagler Live has been a great alternative to such “journalism” and I hope that will continue to be the case.

    I note that most of the comments are from “anonymous” or some nickname or simply a letter of the alphabet – my name is Irwin Connelly and I stand by and approve of this comment.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Irwin, your familiarity with straw men is admirable. Your mischaracterizing the questions here a little less so. It’s been interesting to see how the almost universal way question 13 was interpreted was as bait to attacks. Nowhere in the question is that suggested. The question goes to knowledge of these lawyers as only lawyers who work with each other can know. They know each other’s demeanor, versatility with various aspects of law, their presence, their command of facts, their sense of empathy, their conduct with judges, their rapport with juries: all relevant matters when it comes to deciding what makes for a good judge. That’s the insights we were seeking. These ladies and gentlemen have for the most part seen each other in action enough to be able to make these analytical assessments. The rest of us have not and cannot. You seize on the mention of grapevine again in a leap assumptions that we were seeking salacious hearsay on the candidates. The question is about what happens inside the courtroom, not outside of it.

      You leapt again all over the question on religion, which wasn’t inspired by any carnage in Beirut but by the likes of good old American fanatics like Judge Roy Moore who think god is somehow above the law (she isn’t, of course, anymore above the law than Nixon, one of her distinguished progenies). Religion is unfortunately burrowing itself in public, political and legal life to such an extent these days, down to legislative and courtroom shenanigans over sharia law, that a direct question about the interplay of one’s faith with one’s public responsibilities must be asked, directly and candidly. These ladies and gentlemen are running for a judge seat, not dog catcher. The winner will be with us for years, possibly decades. Unfortunately, they’re being made to run in an election, precipitating all sorts of contradictions with Canon 7, but also transforming themselves into politicians. They don’t get a bye. And if they can handle some of those ridiculously tough judges—and each other—in the courtroom, they can certainly handle some of these questions, which are quite tame in comparison, and barely scrape the surface of what we’ll be contending with for years ahead.

  15. Karmen says:

    By Palm Coast’s logic the sitting president will almost always be better qualified than any opponent (assuming the sitting president is usually older than his/her opponent.) It must make voting in presidential elections exceptionally easy. There’s no need to actually consider the issues. After all, who has more experience as president than the person currently in office?

  16. 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.

  17. 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:

      Dorothea,

      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.

  18. 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)

  19. Michael Stens says:

    Dorothea,
    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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