On Nov. 8, Flagler County voters will cast ballots in races for the U.S. Senate and the House of Representative, for governor, state House and cabinet posts, school board, county commission, three proposed constitutional amendments and a referendum on renewing the school district’s half-cent sales surtax, and for most, Palm Coast City Council.
But 11 of the 26 ovals voters will be asked to fill are retention votes in judicial elections for five Supreme Court and six appeals court judges. Those aren’t choices between candidates. Voters are merely asked: should so-and-so “be retained in office” or not. It’s the merit-retention system. In the overwhelming majority of cases, voters have no idea who those incumbents are, even if they’re Supreme Court justices–even less so if they’re judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal, one of five appeal circuits in the state. The outcomes are no less influential on the day-to-day lives of local residents.
The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the entire state. The Fifth District has jurisdiction over 13 counties split in four trial-level, or judicial, circuits, including the Seventh, which includes Flagler, Volusia, St. Johns and Putnam counties. Civil or criminal parties who appeal their cases from circuit court in Flagler file in the Fifth District, which rules in over 100 criminal cases per quarter and twice as many civil cases.
The men and women serving on the appeal and supreme courts may not be familiar–there’s been unusual turnover on the state Supreme Court–but their rulings are controlling law.
Circuit and county judges are elected to six-year terms and must run regular elections where they can face opponents. Most do not. This year, seven circuit judges in the Seventh Judicial Circuit had to run for re-election. They all ran unopposed. Flagler County Judge Andrea Totten, who had been appointed to the newly-created seat in 2019, ran her first election–unopposed.
At the appellate level, judges are never elected but appointed by the governor, and subsequently only “retained” by the electorate every six years or, in very rare instances, rejected. Those elections always take place in even-numbered years.
This year, five Supreme Court justices and 28 appeals court judges are on the ballot. The five Supreme Court justices are Charles Canady, John Couriel, Jamie Grosshans–elevated from the Fifth District Court of Appeal in 2020–Jorge Labarga and Ricky Polston.
Couriel and Grosshans were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Labarga, Poltson and Canady were appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist. Labarga is a moderate conservative. Canady are far to the right of Crist today, Polston a little less so but still very conservative on a court that counts no liberals anymore. It has been remade into what an Orlando Sentinel editorial called a “harsh new majority” by DeSantis, wielding a “right-wing ideology that cannot be trusted to uphold the rule of law.” But if a judge is not retained by voters, DeSantis will replace him with another appointment of his own. DeSantis’s appointments have pushed the court further to the right than it’s been since the days of Jim Crow.
The same applies in the unlikely event that a judge is not retained on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.
The Florida Bar ran a poll of its members on the merit retention of the Supreme Court and appeals court judges. “Results showed recommendations for retention ranging from 86 percent to 59 percent approval,” the Bar reported. “The confidential poll seeks to find whether attorneys who know the most about these jurists believe they should continue in their jobs.” 5,738 lawyers participated the poll conducted by Elections Services Co. of Hauppauge, N.Y. for the Florida Bar. It was not a scientific poll.
For the Florida Supreme Court, poll results indicate support for retention of:
Charles T. Canady, by 73 percent.
John D. Couriel, 63 percent.
Jamie Grosshans, 59 percent.
Jorge Labarga, 85 percent.
Ricky Polston, 74 percent.
A quick sketch of the six appeals court judges on the retention ballot:
Jay P. Cohen has been an appeals court judge since 2008. He was appointed by Crist and has twice before been retained by voters.
James A. Edwards was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to a newly created seat in 2014. He was retained in 2016.
Brian D. Lambert was appointed by Scott to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Jacqueline Griffin in 2014.
Mary Alice Nardella was appointed to the court by DeSantis in 2021, in the face of opposition over Nardella’s qualifications. The Orlando Sentinel is editorializing against her retention.
Daniel E. Traver was appointed to the court by DeSantis in 2019, replacing Wendy Berger, who Donald Trump appointed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (she won Senate confirmation by a tepid 54-37 vote).
Carrie Ann Wozniak was appointed by DeSantis in 2021, replacing Richard Orfinger.
Notably, Cohen, Nardella and Wozniak, along with Meredith Sasso, who also serves on the Fifth District Court, will all be moving to the newly created Sixth District Court of Appeal starting in January. That court will b headquartered in Lakeland, carving out some of the Fifth’s counties. It will include Orange, Osceola, Polk, Hardee, Highlands, Charlotte, Glades, Lee, Hendry and Collier counties. DeSantis will make four more appointments to fill the seats vacated on the Fifth District, a chance for many judges in the Seventh Judicial Circuit to attempt to move up.
For the 5th District Court of Appeal, the Florida Bar’s poll results indicate support for retention of:
Jay P. Cohen, 79 percent.
James A. Edwards, 72 percent.
Brian D. Lambert, 71 percent.
Mary Alice Nardella, 62 percent.
Daniel E. Traver, 70 percent.
Carrie Ann Wozniak, 69 percent.
The following articles and opinions provide added perspective on the judicial slate in the Nov. 8 election.
- Florida Bar Guide for Florida Voters: Judicial and Merit Retention Elections FAQ
- Florida voters will decide whether to retain 5 of 7 state Supreme Court justices
- 4 Florida justices have lost our confidence | A Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel editorial
- Alan Lawson: I’m a former Florida Supreme Court justice who will vote yes to retain five justices
- How Florida Voters Could Fire Their Worst Supreme Court Justices In November
- Voters have the power to oust four far-right Florida Supreme Court justices on Nov. 8. Will they use it?
- Ballotpedia’s 2022 Florida appellate court elections page.
DeSantis “owns” the Florida supreme court—If you like Desantis, keep them in office. If you don’t like DeSantis, vote no.
Save Anerica says
I researched all of them on the internet. Some I voted YES……Others I voted NO
Take time to do your research. Some of these “Judges” I wouldn’t let judge a Dog show.
I’m glad to see this article. I tried Googling every one of these judges in the hopes of finding some information to guide my decision. In most cases, all I found was who had nominated them. No information on any questionable rulings that might play into my decision. It’s good that judges do have to stand for election. It seems useless when the voters have little to no information on the people they are voting for or against. It would appear if a judge keeps their “head low” and doesn’t make the news, it’s quite likely they will cruise to reelection. Hopefully that means they are making good decisions in their rulings. Hopefully, since I won’t know before I vote.
For Real says
Please people research who you vote for and even the proposals on the ballot read them carefully. Vote smart.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Thank you so much for saving me tons and tons of research. The last thing I want to do is to vote for or against anyone without knowing anything about them, or based on prejudiced third party hearsay, (which unfortunately) seems to be close to the new norm in today’s divided world.
Deborah Coffey says
“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship.” Barack Obama
If voters don’t know who the judges are, isn’t it their responsibility to find out? We do have Google.
Jan 16th, 2021
General Kelly, President Trump’s former chief-of-staff said it best:
“We need to look infinitely harder at who we elect to any office in our land. At the office seeker’s character, at their morals, at their ethical record, their integrity, their honesty, their flaws, what they have said about women and minorities, why they are seeking office in the first place, and ONLY THEN consider the policies they espouse.”
And this pertains to ANY office, not just the Judgeships under discussion in this article.
I looked up each judge before we voted. What’s the biggest shame to me is that it is partisan at all. A judge should have no preconceived notions about any case before hearing all evidence and all sides. Far right or far left should have no effect. Maybe they should run separately and not be appointed to begin with. I believe, then, that we may have an improved system. As it is now, people have lost faith.
Good point. This article is one example to the contrary. The only qualification it considers is liberal ideology. It promotes political ideology as a deciding factor and omits qualities such as political independence. This article undermines my confidence in the election process. To me, I expect judges to be impartial and have the emotional maturity to separate their personal opinions from their judgments. Interestingly, articles like this paint such people as “far right”, but never as “far left”. The media in this country is such a disappointment.
First, the 5th DCA JNC has already interviewed and sent a list of nominees for appointment to the governor. There are only 2 judges from the 7th Circuit on the short list. The majority of the nominees are either from Duval or Brevard counties.
Second, for the commenters saying its good for these judges to “stand for election”. They are not standing for election, they are standing for merit retention. Two different things. In considering the appellate and supreme court judges that are on the current ballot for retention it is important to note that a NO retention vote does not entitle the voters to vote on the replacement jurist. All appellate and supreme court judges are by gubernatorial appointment, after the JNC sends a list of certified nominees.
Whomever is sitting in the governor’s chair makes the appointment decision, after the certified nominees are sent by the various JNC (whose current members have all been appointed by the current governor).
Thank you for that clarification. The list of nominees is here.
When I realized I was totally unfamiliar with the judicial candidates on my mail-in ballot, I fished around the Internet and found ballotpedia.com for information on them.
I wanted to know: 1) Who appointed him/her?; 2) When were they appointed to the bench?; 3)What political associations did they belong to?; What political associations they contributed to and how much?
This site may help those who have not yet voted and if more information is required, Google the names. You’d be surprised a what you can uncover.
Go to BallotPedia.org ( https://ballotpedia.org ), scroll down to where it says ‘Sample Ballot Lookup’, enter your information, click on ‘View my Ballot’.
You will then get to select which election (only one right now, but you still have to select it).
At this point, you should have a listing of every office and candidate on your ballot. There are links on the right side by each candidate or issue (“>”) for detailed information.
If you’re a right wing pro-fascist voter then vote for retention. Otherwise, no!
Spent a few hours researching the 11 judges up for retention. Only retained 2 of the 11. The other 9 seemed way too far leaning. Seemingly, one party has taken advantage of the other’s falling asleep at the wheel and has succeeded in stacking the courts. And their handiwork has been on full display this past year. Additionally, it seems that if a party can’t advance their agenda thru the legislature, with representatives of the electorate, then the courts are the next logical battleground. While appointed positions are bs, in a democracy, our constitutions dictate they be so. With so much at stake, please research and vote wisely, and do so every election cycle until our collective will is realized.
Wow, thanks to the extreme liberal tone of the article and your obvious disdain for everything conservative you made my choices simple.
I suppose since GRD has shifted the court further right than the days of Jim Crowe (to use your hyperbole) that you have dispensed with reason completely.
The state of FL is quickly becoming the best of the best in the US and that is due in large part to the exceptional leadership of GRD. You can follow along the party line criticism if you want but it’s ringing very hollow based on the facts.
And lest we forget the party in charge in the days in the aforementioned Jim Crowe era.
They are all republicans that’s why I voted NO !!!!!!
Lance Carroll says
I will vote to retain none of the judiciary.
If you don’t like our rules, our governor, our laws, our judges, our justices, then what the hell are you doing here? Go back to your blue state hell and leave us alone instead if trying to ruin everything good about OUR beautiful, free state.
Don't Cull Me says
I was born and raised here as were my parents. This is my state and it’s being turned into an unrecognizable mess. Florida is very, very far from being a FREE state. Makes me very sad!!