Saturday, November 19, 2011

Florida's Trial Judges Should be Appointed, Not Elected

There are good state trial judges in Florida, and there are bad ones. However, all of them are elected -- not appointed as state appellate judges and all federal judges -- are. I have been a trial and appellate lawyer in Monroe County (the Florida Keys) since 1983. Over those 28 years, I have appeared before good, and not-so-good, judges. I have also appeared before state appellate judges, and it is my firm conviction that electing trial judges is a bad idea. 

Being an attorney is a second career for me -- and there are days when I wish I had never switched. From 1963 to 1970, I earned BS, MS, and PhD degrees from the University of Michigan. From 1966 through 1984, I published 50 peer-reviewed papers and reports. I published my first book in 1971, on the surface chemistry of activated carbon, and edited nine books on chemistry instrumentation from 1972 to 1981. In 1979, I graduated from George Washington University law school, in the top 5% of my class.

Monroe County has four Circuit judges and four County judges. Over the years, some Circuit judges have developed specialties such as criminal or probate matters. That works in Key West, where there are three Circuit Judges. Occasionally, the voters have elected judges who don't have the patience a judge needs, or do not take the time to learn a field of law that is in front of them. One of the best we ever had was Steve Shea, who did his own research and spent nights writing well reasoned decisions. However, Judge Shea irritated his colleagues to the point where they ran him off the bench. (Steve Shea passed away last year, from kidney cancer.)

I do not believe that Monroe County's trial judges are any different from those in the rest of Florida -- and they may well be better. What I do believe is that the parties, and counsel, who appear before Florida's trial judges are entitled to a higher level of quality than the haphazard situation we have now. Florida's appellate judges are appointed by the Governor. As far as I can tell from 24 years of appellate practice, our appointed judges are well-vetted by their peers. I realize this is an issue in many States, not just in Florida, but there is just no way to "vet" every lawyer who puts up signs before election day. 

No comments: