Most of them waited to the last moments to apply. Not the most reassuring sign for the sort of position they’re seeking–Flagler County judge, the sort of job that devours procrastinators and unceremoniously spits them out at litigants’ expense.
By midweek just eight lawyers had applied, only three of them Flagler residents. By the time the window closed at 5 this afternoon, the list had grown to 22 names, several of them familiar, including past candidates and applicants either to the circuit or county bench, most of them current or former prosecutors or public defenders. Two applicants are black, one is Hispanic. Nine are Flagler County residents.
Following a multiyear campaign by local officials, the Supreme Court’s certification and the Florida Legislature’s approval and appropriation, Flagler County is getting its second county judge seat sometime this year. The nine-member Seventh Judicial Circuit’s Judicial Nominating Commission–with just one member from Flagler–will be interviewing the candidates and sending a short-list of recommendations to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will make the appointment.
He will likely do so after the November election to assure his hand-picked choice service on the bench at least through 2022, when the seat will have to be contested in an open election. The seat could be contested in 2020. But for that to happen, DeSantis would have to make his appointment before this November’s election. But his brief history of appointments, including three appointments to the Supreme Court, strongly suggest that political calculations, including race, ideology and age, are not a minor matter for him. That’s not heartening news for the few Democrats and minorities among the 22 vying for the $152,000-a-year position.
The county judge will join Melissa Distler who–as Melissa Moore-Stens–won election to the bench in 2012 in a very close race that had initially featured seven candidates, two of whom are among the 22 applicants. The winner of the 2012 primary was Craig Atack, the son of Sharon Atack, the county judge at the time, who was retiring at the end of her term. Craig Atack surpassed Distler by a point and a half. Both left the rest of the field far behind. In the general election runoff, Distler won by 1,020 votes, or just over two percentage points.
Craig Atack (seemingly the only graduate of Flagler Palm Coast High School in the group), is among the applicants. He’s spent the last 13 years as an assistant public defender in the circuit, either in Daytona Beach or St. Augustine, and the last six in the appellate division in Daytona Beach.
The other candidate who lost in the primary and is in the running for the county judgeship is Josh Davis, an assistant state prosecutor at the time, a Palm Coast attorney in private practice today. He had the dreary distinction of coming in dead last in the field of seven, polling at under 7 percent, a distinction he is likely to replicate in whatever smoke-free backrooms will influence the governor’s decision as peripheral power brokers–State Attorney R.J. Larizza, Sheriff Rick Staly, Rep. Paul Renner, Sen. Travis Hutson and possibly a few judges–whisper in the ears of the governor and his advisers: Davis is a bare-knuckled bête noire of the local sheriff, though in fairness to any nominating commission, his temperament is more James Cagney than Jimmy Stewart.
The nominating commission was appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott. It will conduct the interviews Aug. 28 and 29. The location has yet to be disclosed.
Whoever DeSantis nominates will have to be a Flagler County resident by the time he or she is seated.
Here’s the full list of applicants. Their name is linked to their application. The application process was administered by the offices of Katherine Hurst Miller, who chairs the Seventh Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission and is a lawyer at Wright & Casey in New Smyrna Beach, whose assistant Megan Johnson carried out much of the work.
The application included the directive that applicants self-redact (or self-censor) in accordance with Florida’s public record law. Some of the applicants under-redacted, some of them over-redacted beyond such permissibly redactable things as, for example, personal addresses, children’s names and the like. The applications are presented as submitted by the applicants via Wright & Casey, except in some cases where additional redactions for such things as social security numbers and home addresses, were necessary, and redacted by FlaglerLive. Some of the information below repeats that of earlier applicants, published in our Aug. 7 story, which had not included links to the applications. The applicants are listed in alphabetical order.
Alexander Alvarez, 60, a child support enforcement hearing officer for state courts in Daytona Beach and a Palm Coast resident.
Craig Atack, 43, an assistant public defender in the circuit’s Daytona Beach office, with 13 years in the circuit’s public defender’s office.
John Cary, 41, is an assistant city attorney in St. Augustine and a St. Augustine resident whose government experience also includes three years as an attorney for the Florida House of Representatives, two as the chief attorney for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and two as the senior supervising attorney in state court administration.
Joshua Davis, 42, a private-practice attorney and Palm Coast resident who’s been an assistant public defender, an attorney with the circuit’s guardian ad litem division, an assistant state attorney and a courts manager.
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.)
Christopher DelBene, 33, a private practice, “remote” attorney with Fort Lauderdale’s Phelan Hallinan Diamond and Jones firm. He lives in St. Augustine.
Wesley Flagler, 35, an attorney with the Florida Department of Children and Families in Bunnell and a Flagler Beach resident.
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.
Mark Johnson, 45, an assistant state attorney in the circuit’s homicide division in St. Augustine, and a resident of St. Johns County. He’s been a prosecutor since 2004.
Jim Manfre, 61, the Palm Coast private practice attorney who served two terms as Flagler County sheriff (2001-2004 and 2013-16).
G. Kipling Miller, 54, an attorney in private practice in Daytona Beach who lives in Flagler Beach. He was an assistant state attorney in the circuit, in Daytona Beach, from 1993 to 2000.
James Nealis IV, 37, an assistant state attorney in Palatka who lives in St. Johns County.
Mitchel Novas, 56, an assistant public defender in the felony division in Volusia, who lists his home only as “Volusia.” He lists himself as Hispanic. (He was born in Havana.)
Regina Nunnally (she went as far as redacting her age), a Volusia County resident and assistant public defender in Bunnell since 2003.
Milan “Bo” Samargya, 52, a Jacksonville attorney at the TAC Law Group who overredacted his home address: not so much as a county is provided, though he is registered to vote in St. Johns. He ran unsuccessfully for public defender in the fifth judicial circuit in 2012 and applied to a judgeship in the circuit last year. He was briefly an assistant state attorney in Bunnell for less than a year, until last June.
Sebrina Slack, 48, an attorney at New Smyrna Beach’s Wright & Casey who lives in Volusia. She was an attorney at the State Attorney’s Office in the circuit between 2000 and 2002. She was a circuit court judge candidate in the circuit in 2016, losing to Stasia Warren.
Scott Spradley, 63, a Flagler Beach lawyer in private practice throughout his career but for a summer stint as a law clerk at the Florida Department of Professional Regulation. He lives in Flagler Beach.
Judy Stewart, 56, a Eustis lawyer in private practice throughout her career. She lives in Eustis.
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.