With two days to go before the application window closes, eight candidates have applied to be appointed Flagler County judge, the second county judge seat the Legislature approved in its last session to share the docket of County Judge Melissa Distler.
The Seventh Judicial Circuit’s Judicial Nominating Commission, a nine-member panel appointed by the governor, will conduct interviews of the candidates likely on Aug. 28 and 29, then forward its recommendations to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to make the appointment sometime in fall.
Several names are familiar to the nominating commission, some because this won’t be their first (or second or third) attempt at a judgeship, and some because of past notoriety, as is the case of Jim Manfre, the former Flagler County sheriff who served two terms in that position. Manfre, an attorney in private practice, had also applied to be city manager of Flagler Beach and Palm Coast in recent years.
The applicants so far:
Steven DeLaroche, 55, a Daytona Beach attorney in private practice who lives in Ormond Beach. (Whoever is appointed will have to be living in his or her permanent home in Flagler at the time of the investiture.)
Alan Holt, 47, a Daytona Beach attorney in private practice who lives in Ormond Beach.
William Hyland Jr., 62, a DeLand attorney in private practice who lives in DeLand.
Jim Manfre, 61, the Palm Coast private practice attorney who served two terms as Flagler County sheriff (2001-2004 and 2013-16).
Mitchel Novas, 56, an assistant public defender in the felony division in Volusia, who lists his home only as “Volusia.” He is one of two non-white applicants, listing himself as Hispanic. (He was born in Havana.)
Andrea Totten, 39, an assistant attorney general in the Daytona Beach office and a Palm Coast resident. Totten was a former assistant state attorney.
Alicia Washington, 49, a Bunnell attorney in private practice and a Palm Coast resident. She was a past assistant state attorney and an assistant public defender. She has applied for the bench before and been passed over. (prosecutor under tanner, and public defender)
Joseph Ryan Will, 39, an assistant state attorney in Volusia County and a Daytona Beach resident who ran for circuit judge in the Seventh Circuit in 2018, losing to Linda Gaustad, 59-41 circuit-wide, but by the more lopsided margin of 63-37 in Flagler.
More names are expected to join the list by Friday.
Washington is the only black applicant in a circuit with an overwhelmingly white bench: only one of its 15 current county judges (Judge Dawn Fields) is black. The circuit’s population of just under 1 million is 10 percent black. In Flagler, it’s just under 11 percent.
DeLaroche, Washington and Novas all applied last year to replace Scott DuPont, the former civil court judge booted off the bench by the Supreme Court after revelations of improprieties in and out of court. They were among 15 applicants. The appointment went to Bryan Rendzio, assigned to St. Augustine’s family court division. DeLaroche and Novas also were among applicants in 2017 for the seat County Judge Shirley Green vacated. DeLaroche also ran unsuccessfully for a judgeship in 2014 and for clerk of court two years before that.
Some of the candidates have baggage.
DeLaroche was formerly a county judge, winning election in 2000 in what, at the time, was the most expensive judicial race in Volusia’s history: he put down $144,000 of his own. In 2006 faced charges from the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, on allegations that he fixed traffic tickets. DeLaroche resigned in 2007 before the investigation was completed, but the commission has said previously that if DeLaroche were to be seated again, it could reopen the investigation.
Manfre’s tenures as sheriff were not quiet ones, and his second tenure was overshadowed by an ethics investigation that culminated in findings of ethics violations and fines totaling $6,200, and a public reprimand by the governor, effected by executive order.
Will was disciplined by the Florida Bar and publicly reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 after he made “an improper argument and statements,” including “demeaning and ridiculing personal attacks”–according to a Supreme Court finding–leveled at a defendant in the closing arguments of a case that an appeals court reversed and remanded to the trial court in part on that account. Will tendered a conditional guilty plea. (Will repeatedly called the defendant a “crackhead.”)
Applicants have until the end of business Friday to send in their application package. If DeSantis makes the appointment before November, the new judge will serve only until the end of 2020, and would have to run in that year’s election if he or she hopes to retain the seat. If, as is more likely, DeSantis makes the appointment after November, then the appointee will get to serve until the 2022 election. The process is highly politicized at every level, and DeSantis, like governors before him, will want his handpicked choices for the bench to have as much time as possible to build incumbency capital before they face the electorate.
Applicants must send their application to:
Katherine Hurst Miller, Chair
Seventh Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission
Wright & Casey, P.A.
340 North Causeway
New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169
See more details about the application process here.