Elections 2016: First Coast Voters Weighing In On Judge Retention

Oct 17, 2016

First Coast voters have up to nine judges on their November ballots facing the question: Should they retain their jobs?

Several appeals judges and three Florida Supreme Court justices are on the November ballot. It’s called a merit retention election.

Florida law requires appellate judges to show up on the ballot every six years. They’re originally appointed by the governor, while circuit and county judges are elected.

Judges don’t have term limits. A judge can serve in Florida until the age of 70.

The races are nonpartisan and judges are not allowed to campaign to maintain impartiality.

So how can voters learn about the judges up for retention? One way is to look at how Florida lawyers think the judges are performing.

The Florida Bar asks lawyers to rank judges on eight attributes: quality and clarity of judicial opinions; knowledge of the law; integrity; judicial temperament; impartiality; freedom from bias/prejudice; demeanor; and courtesy. This year, about  6,000 lawyers responded, and all judges were given high marks, ranging from 79 to 92 percent approval.

The Florida bar judge voting guide says a “good” judge is fair, impartial and understands the law.

Florida Supreme Court

Charles T. Canady: 84 percent lawyer approval rating

Jorge Labarga: 91 percent lawyer approval rating

Ricky L. Polston: 84 percent lawyer approval rating

First District Court of Appeal (Duval, Bradford, Baker, Clay and Nassau Counties)

Ross Bilbrey: 82 percent lawyer approval rating

Susan Kelsey: 81 percent lawyer approval rating

Lori S. Rowe: 79 percent lawyer approval rating

Kent Wetherell: 82 percent lawyer approval rating

Bo Winokur: 79 percent lawyer approval rating

Jim Wolf: 89 percent lawyer approval rating

Fifth District Court of Appeal (St. Johns, Putnam and Flagler Counties)

Jay Cohen: 86 percent lawyer approval rating

James A. Edwards: 86 percent lawyer approval rating

Brian Lambert: 83 percent lawyer approval rating

Vincent G. Torpy, Jr.: 87 percent lawyer approval rating

Photo: "Courtroom One Gavel" used under Creative Commons.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride