The Seventh Judicial Commission’s Judicial Nominating Commission took seriously an expectation that the candidate for the newly created Flagler County Judge position be deeply rooted in Flagler. It is recommending six candidates for the judgeship, all of them Flagler residents, several of them with deep credentials, winsome personalities and affecting personal stories.
The names have been submitted to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will make the appointment to the a $152,000-a-year job sometime this year. If he does so before Nov. 1, then the appointee will have to run in the 2020 election to defend the seat. If DeSantis makes the appointment after the first week of November, the appointee won;t have to defend the seat until the 2022 election. State law requires an appointee to serve a full year on the bench before running. Appointees are required to run in general, even-year elections only. Governors have been known to play the calendar and delay appointments in such a way as to ensure that their nominee has as much time on the bench as possible to build incumbency before running in an election.
The nine-member Judicial Nominating Commission for the Seventh Judicial Circuit, which includes Flagler, assiduously questioned all 24 candidates for the position Wednesday on such criteria as electability, whether they have run campaigns before, whether they have the local connections to defend the seat in an election.
/The appointments, like the races for for bench, are supposed to be non-partisan. Of course, they seldom are. Parties know who their candidates are. Governors know who belongs to their party. It’s the rare exception when they appoint across party lines. Five of the six candidates for appointment were registered Republican in 2016. Atack’s record was redacted from the Supervisor of Elections’ database, since he is a public defender, but his family has long been involved, and continues to be involved, in local Democratic circles. It is possible, though unlikely, that DeSantis, who is intensely partisan, would pick Atack despite his background and proven electability.
Among the candidates, Atack alone has been a candidate for office and run a campaign before, winning a primary election by taking 25 percent of the vote in a field of seven candidates. The candidate then known as Melissa Moore Stens–now Distler–was just under 2 points behind. She defeated him by two points, a difference of 1,000 votes out of 44,500 cast in the runoff. Atack, whose mother and father were both county judges in Flagler before Distler, has been an assistant public defender, living in Flagler but working in Volusia in the appellate division.
Washington, on the other hand, was the only one of the 24 candidates who appeared before the nominating commission Wednesday to receive an overt endorsement from one of the commissioners. Washington has been part of a JNC process half a dozen times before and been short listed several times. “This is your time,” one of the commissioners told her. Washington, Miller and Spradley are in private practice. Alvarez is a general magistrate and child support enforcement hearing officer for state courts, working in Daytona Beach. Totten is an assistant attorney general in the criminal appeals division, posted in Daytona Beach.
The slate of candidates included several with strong backgrounds but with tenuous connections to Flagler, their candidacy more opportune than genuinely keyed to a county judgeship. Some of the short-listed candidates made clear that they were interested in being county judge to be county judge rather than a stepping stone to a circuit judgeship.
The following are the complete JNC interviews of each of the short-listed candidates, courtesy of VolusiaExposed.