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Final Tally: Meet The 22 Lawyers Applying to Be Flagler’s Next Appointed County Judge

| August 9, 2019

Raul Zambrano, the seventh circuit's chief judge, will see a new judge appointed to county court in Flagler by year's end, but will not have a say about the appointment. At least not officially. (© FlaglerLive)

Raul Zambrano, the seventh circuit’s chief judge, will see a new judge appointed to county court in Flagler by year’s end, but will not have a say about the appointment. At least not officially. (© FlaglerLive)

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.

13 Responses for “Final Tally: Meet The 22 Lawyers Applying to Be Flagler’s Next Appointed County Judge”

  1. Michael Van Buren says:

    And once again, Manfre fails admit his transgressions and blames the ethics violation on others. But after working for him for almost 8 years and seeing him in action, I really am not surprised. (Page 20 of his application). Copies of the ethics complaints are on flaglerlive along with copies of the documents.

  2. Lance Carroll says:

    Flagler County sure has grown over the past few decades in many ways. Our community would be well served by a grass roots applicant, to judgeship, that has a lifetime here. How many of the applicants have a lifetime invested? My opinion, Craig Atack is the person most qualified for this open judgeship.

  3. Eugene Hartke says:

    Jim Manfre? Shouldn’t our judges be known for their honesty?

  4. South Florida says:

    Alicia Washington is by far the best candidate for the position of county judge.
    She prevailed in a case in favor of my friend.
    I have never seen such tenacity in any other attorney as I have seen with Alicia Washington.

  5. hawkeye says:

    I will have to do some research on the rest of the candidates,however ,there are 2 that I hope never get to be a judge,Manfre ,a new jersey lawyer and terrible sherrif and Regina Nunnelly a public defender, who wasnt even very good at that.

  6. PalmCoaster says:

    Only qualified applicants from Flagler County should be considered. We need someone committed to our community, not just because they got a job here.

  7. Again says:

    Regina Nunnally is the absolute worst possible outcome for judge in this county . She is rude , unprofessional and a horrible public pretender . She may as well remove her name from the interview process , cause it ain’t happening sister !

  8. Irwin Connelly says:

    The writer “Again” does not have the courage to write his/her name on the post. He/She shows complete disrespect for the Public Defenders who stand between possible oppressive government violation of constitutionally protected rights of citizens. This comment, which shows the writer’s ignorance of our great system of law, should be ignored (which I just did not do.)

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Federal District Judge Murray Gurfein once wrote in a famous 1971 decision that “A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, an ubiquitous press, must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.” I wish the same could be said of our comment section which, even after moderating the more libelous and outright false comments–to the extent that my PTSD-addled moderator manages to do so–often doesn’t even rate as cantankerous or obstinate, just distasteful. But in these cases–these candidates are running for judge, not a PTA presidency–the bar must be lower and the allowance for comments greater. Which explains the unfortunate allowance of comments such as Again’s. As in court, it’s not illegal to flip off a judge, but it’s grossly offensive and it reflects only on the flipper, anonymous though he or she may be. What I can do here is, without making any judgments about who’s worth the appointment and who isn’t (not my place, not my interest) is offer a direct corrective specified to what Again alleged, based on my experience of covering Ms. Nunnally in countless hearings and many trials. She may have her limitations, as all lawyers, judges, reporters, bus drivers and commenters do, but “rude,” “unprofessional,” and “horrible public pretender,” punned or not, are not words that would occur to anyone who sees her in the courtroom. Considering the unpardonable size of her docket–as unpardonable as that of all our overworked and underpaid public defenders, but that’s not unique to Flagler or Florida–I’m usually stunned by her ability to command her cases as she does and still manage the occasionally imaginative defense that takes juries by surprise and swings them her way. In a circuit where judges tend to have a nearly incestuous soft spot for prosecutors (having, most of them, been prosecutors themselves: their grayed-templed nostalgia too often leaks from the bench like the ex-high school basketball star pining for that old jump shot), it’s a wonder the Nunnallys of the circuit manage to keep their cool as they do through ruling after ruling that illustrates the not-quite even standards of our justice system. Admirable as it is, its subjectivity is still what all those black robes veil so well. In Askew-like days, when nominating commissions had independence and the bar still had a voice more respected than the governor’s falsetto, Nunnally would have been seated long ago. Those were the days.

  9. Again says:

    And on a side note….. Josh Davis for Judge/Sheriff/Congress/President !!! Hope he gets it !

  10. Again says:

    Irwin and Pierre ….. sounds as if someone pissed in your Cheerios …..we are all entitled to opinion and sharing experiences correct ? This is America correct ? Just stating the obvious . Irwin I’ve seen you in action and let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree . Did you show Regina the “ropes”? Lol …. It’s all good boys , opinions are generated by facts sometimes , not just personal interest of roasting someone .

  11. Steve Gosney says:

    Thank you Mr. Tristam for saying what needed to be stated. Regina is one of the most beautiful people I know, and anyone who has worked against and with here (as I have) know her to be as you stated in your comment. God Bless.

  12. Michael Van Buren says:

    While I think Joshua Davis would make a good judge, I can’t help but wonder how Craig Atack would do. I was proud to serve both of his parents as an occasional balliff, and in my opinion they both served honorably. I’m guessing the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree!

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