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Factors to consider when voting for judges

Posted on Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 12:20 pm

By Charlie Reed
For the News-Gazette
Sitting judges and judicial candidates running for office can tell voters a lot about themselves – career highlights, trial experience, alma mater, personal history and charitable organizations they work with.
But don’t bother asking about their personal or professional opinions on abortion, medical marijuana, the death penalty or any other legal matter that could arise in their courtrooms.
Florida law prohibits them from answering in the name of maintaining impartiality among the judiciary. It also requires circuit court and county court judges to be elected in non-partisan elections. Florida Supreme Court justices and District Courts of Appeal judges are appointed by the governor and then run in merit retention elections to stay on the beach.
So without political agendas or party affiliations, how do voters judge incumbent judges vs. their challengers, or races with two
novice candidates?
“It boils down to their experience, their breadth of knowledge and their demeanor,” said Robert Holborn, president of the Osceola County Bar Association.
Judges are akin to umpires, he said, they have to make sure both sides are playing fair in the courtroom.
“Non-partisan judicial elections allow the people to vote for a candidate and not what that candidate stands for. And a judge is not supposed to stand for anything but justice,” said Holburn, an assistant
state attorney.
The bar association hosted a mixer in July to give voters an opportunity to meet the 17 candidates running for judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit, which covers Osceola and Orange counties. Another seven candidates are running for one open judgeship in the District Court of Appeals, which Osceola voters will decide on in the Aug. 26
primary election.
“It’s tough being a judge. Many times you have to makes decisions that aren’t popular,” said Senior Judge Jeffords D. Miller from the Ninth Circuit, who retired in 2006, but still presides over traffic court cases.
“It’s a very important job,” Miller said. “We have to remember that it’s not about important people but rather an important position.”
Circuit court judges and county court judges are trial judges and can preside over both civil and criminal proceedings – from small claims, landlord-tenant disputes and traffic citations to death penalty decisions and child custody disputes.
“We want to encourage people to talk to each other, attorneys and those who have been through the court system to help them make informed decisions,” Holburn said. “Judges touch our community everyday.”
Kissimmee resident T.J. McIntosh was one of a several dozen voters who attended the bar association event in July.
“Judicial candidates are like all candidates running for office, the more you read about and observe them, the better chance you have of making the right choice. And then you feel good about your vote,” he said.