Election Day is not only used to select a new President of the United States. Along with selecting Senators and Congresspersons, Tuesday Nov. 8 gives people the opportunity to decide if Justices of the Florida State Supreme Court and the District Court of Appeals retain their positions. This year, three Florida Supreme Court Justices and four Fifth District Court of Appeals Judges are on the ballot in Hernando County.
In what is known as “Merit Retentions,” citizens vote on whether current judges remain at their positions. These votes allow voters to remove justices that have been tainted by corruption, or are no longer trusted to be ethical, impartial and qualified to make decisions. In as such, there has never been a sitting justice to be removed by one of these votes. It is unlikely that the streak will be broken this year, considering all three Supreme Court Justices have received at least 84 percent support by the Florida Bar Association, viewing all of the Justices as fair and honest.
On the ballot this year are Jay Cohen, James A. Edwards, Brian Lambert and Vincent G. Torpy Jr. for the Fifth District Court of Appeals. The Fifth District is one of five appellate courts in Florida with jurisdiction over the Fifth, Seventh, Ninth and Eighteenth circuit courts. (Hernando County falls into the Fifth Circuit Court.)
The four Appellate Court judges on the ballot are accompanied by Charles T. Canady, Jorge Labarga, and Ricky L. Polston for the Supreme Court. Canady and Polston make up the conservative minority on the court, while Labarga usually votes with the liberal majority.
FIFTH JUDICIAL COURT OF APPEALS
Cohen was appointed to the Fifth District in 2008 by Gov. Charlie Crist after serving 18 years in the Ninth Judicial Circuit. He was known to serve with distinction, receiving the award of Excellence from the Orange County Bar Association in 1990 for “outstanding community service.”
Edwards was appointed in 2014 after a distinguished 35 year career at a private practice, where he worked on both state and federal court cases. He was also reliable to be a neutral mediator for both state and federal cases. A well regarded leader, he was awarded the William Trickel Jr. Award by the Orange County Bar Association in 2013.
Lambert was also appointed in 2014, after serving in the Fifth Judicial Circuit, Marion County, from 2000 until his placement in the Fifth District. He is known to be a knowledgeable justice, having served on the Florida Bar and on Supreme Court Committees. He is also a certified mentor for new judges appointed or elected to the Fifth Circuit, providing valuable experience and tutelage to new justices.
Torpy Jr. serves as Chief Judge, having been honored with that position in 2012. He is also the longest tenured member of the Fifth District up for retention this year having been appointed in 2003. He served honorably in the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit starting in 1999, handling sensitive cases in the civil/family divisions as well as tougher criminal cases.
FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
Polston was named to the Supreme Court in 2008 by Governor Crist, having previously served in the First District Court of Appeals from 2001 until his appointment. He maintained a private Law Practice 1987- 2000. He is an Adjunct Law Professor, Florida State University 2003-present as well as a Certified Public Accountant 1978-present. He maintained a Public Accounting Practice 1977-1984.
Labarga is the current Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, having been elected to that position in 2014. He is notable as being the first ever Cuban-American to be Chief Justice of Florida, and was appointed to the Florida bench by Governor Crist in January 2009, having previously served in with the Fifteenth Circuit Court of Appeals from 1996 until his appointment to the Supreme Court. At the Fifteenth Circuit Labarga gained some notoriety during the 2000 Presidential Election, ruling on the lawsuit which denied a new vote in that election on the basis that it was forbidden by the Constitution and that elections must be held on the same day in order to prevent a bias. In 2011 Labarga was awarded the Judicial Independence Award by the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, noting his fairness and impartiality.
Canady is probably the most well-known of the Florida Supreme Court at this time, on both a state and national stage. This is in large part due to his inclusion on Republican nominee Donald Trump’s shortlist to the United States Supreme Court should he be elected. Canady is a former Congressman, being elected in 1992, and served on the judiciary committee from 1995 until 2001. Staunchly pro-life, he introduced the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 1995, which was vetoed by President Bill Clinton and narrowly avoided a senatorial override. After leaving congress, Canady was named to the Second District Court of Appeals by Governor Jeb Bush in November 2002, a position he held until being named to the Florida Supreme Court by Governor Charlie Crist in September 2008.
HOW DID THEY SIDE?
In a recent Florida Supreme Court decision finding the current Florida death penalty law unconstitutional and requiring juries to unanimously agree on death sentences, the justices on the ballot sided as follows in the (5-2) decision:
LABARGA concurred, while CANADY and POLSTON dissented.
The Florida Supreme Court found Constitutional a law that did not require knowledge of a controlled substance—mens rea (“guilty mind”)— to be an element of a criminal narcotics offense. The justices on the ballot sided as follows in the (5-2) decision:
LABARGA, POLSTON and CANADY concurred.
In the case Pino v. Bank of New York Mellon, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that when a bank voluntarily dismisses a foreclosure action, the homeowner facing the foreclosure cannot reinstate the case for the purpose of showing the original court filing contained fraudulent documents that merit sanction. The justices on the ballot voted as follows:
LABARGA concurs, POLSTON and CANADY "concur in result only"