Get to know the Justices and Judges on the 2022 Election Day ballot.
Written by Kristen Schmutz
Belden Communications News
The 2022 Election is only a few weeks away, and many voters have already received sample ballots with names of political candidates who are running for local, state, or federal offices. Also, on the sample ballot voters will find the names of Florida Supreme Court Justices and Appellate Court Judges who are up for merit retention. Merit retention is a system of selection established by the voters and was amended into the Florida Constitution in the 1970s.
According to floridasupremecourt.org, under this process, the Governor appoints new Supreme Court Justices and Appellate Judges from a list of three to six names submitted by a Judicial Nominating Commission. Once appointment as a Supreme Court Justice or an Appellate Judge occurs, appointees must face the voters to see if they remain in office. New Justices or Judges face their first merit retention vote in the next general election one year after their appointment. If not retained in office, a different Justice or Judge goes through the same appointment process, and the cycle repeats. A Supreme Court Justice and Appellate Court Judge’s merit retention races are Statewide and do not adhere to specific districts.
If retained, each Justice or Judge serves a six-year term beginning in early January following the first merit retention election.
Most judicial races appear on the primary ballot or a subsequent ballot in the general election only if no candidate receives a majority of votes during the primary. While this means that many judicial races never appear on the general election ballot, it allows for the second round of voting during the general election if necessary.
Many voters are unfamiliar with the Supreme or Appellate Court practices and generally skip past the Judicial retention portion of their ballots. At Belden Communications News, we want to educate voters on who the five Supreme Court Justices and Appellate Judges who are up for merit retention this year are:
Florida Supreme Court Justices
- Justice Charles T. Canady was appointed in 2008 by Governor Charlie Christ. He is the 82nd Supreme Court Justice and served as the 54th Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court from 20120 – 2012 and elected by his colleagues to serve as Chief Justice again in 2018 and 2020. Canady has served three terms in the Florida House of Representatives, and from January 1993 to January 2001, served four terms in the United States House of Representatives.
- Justice John D. Couriel was appointed in 2020 by Governor Ron DeSantis. He is the 90th Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, and has prosecuted hundreds of federal offenses, including international money laundering, public integrity, healthcare fraud, and human trafficking crimes.
- Justice Jaime Grosshans was appointed in 2020 by Governor Ron DeSantis, the 91st Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, and previously served in the Fifth District Court of Appeal in 2018 following an appointment by Governor Rick Scott. Prior to her appointment to the appellate court, Grosshans served as an Orange County Court Judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida where she presided over criminal and civil matters.
- Justice Jorge Labarga was appointed in 2009 by then-Republican Governor Charlie Christ as the 84th Justice of the Florida Supreme Court. In 2014, he was Florida's 56th Chief Justice and the first Cuban American to hold the post. Holding that office for two terms until June 2018, Labarga is the first Chief Justice to serve consecutive terms in a century.
- Justice Ricky Polston was appointed in 2008 by then-Republican Governor Charlie Christ as the 83rd Justice of the Florida Supreme Court. He has served a two-year term as Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court in 2012-14, as Administrative Justice, and has been on numerous Bar and Court committees and as the Court’s liaison to them.
U.S. Appellate Court Judges
- Chief Judge Brian D. Lambert of the 5th District Court of Appeal was appointed by Governor Rick Scott in 2014. In 2016, he won the retention vote by 68.85%. Lambert is serving as Chief Judge, a rotating position on the Court. Before becoming a judge, Lambert had about 20 years of experience as a private practice attorney. In that time, Lambert argued 25-30 jury trials, 40-50 non-jury trials, and one case for administrative bodies (government agencies) to completion. He spent the first ten years mainly specializing in civil and probate cases before creating his firm, where he worked in insurance defense with some construction litigation.
- Judge Jay Cohen of the 5th District Court of Appeal was appointed by then-Republican Governor Charlie Crist in 2008, winning the retention vote in 2010 by 63.36% and in 2016 by 67.95%. Before becoming a judge, Cohen had about 11 years of experience as an attorney. In that time, Cohen argued one hundred jury trials, two hundred non-jury trials, and two cases for administrative bodies (government agencies) to completion. For the first three years, he was a Prosecutor. He then shifted to private practice, specializing in criminal defense, juvenile dependency, domestic relations, commercial matters, and personal injury.
- Judge James Edwards of the 5th District Court of Appeal was appointed by former Governor Rick Scott in 2014. In 2016, he won the retention vote by 69.43%. Before becoming a judge, he had about 35 years of experience as an attorney on state and federal cases. In that time, Edwards argued about thirty jury trials, five non-jury trials, and twenty arbitration cases to completion. He worked in civil cases at the state and federal levels. He specialized in commercial and civil litigation, including product liability and toxic torts, personal injury and wrongful claims, construction damage claims, legal malpractice, and others.
- Judge Mary Alice “Molly” Nardella of the 5th District Court of Appeal, was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021. Before becoming a judge, Nardella had about 12 years of experience as an attorney. During that time, Nardella argued two appellate cases to completion. She defended some of the largest corporations, including advising and defending insurance companies. She also specialized in commercial litigation, including product and professional liability, medical malpractice (doctors and patients), and commercial fiduciary litigation.
- Judge Dan Traver of the 5th District Court of Appeal was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis in 2019. Before becoming a judge, Traver had about ten years of experience as a private practice attorney. In that time, Traver argued three jury trials and two non-jury trials to completion. He specialized mainly in complex commercial litigation in state and federal courts, including contracts, real estate, loans, malpractice, personal injury, and fraud. He also handled juvenile law.
- Judge Carrie Ann Wozniak of the 5th District Court of Appeal was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021. Before becoming a judge, Wozniak had 14 years of experience as an attorney. In that time, Wozniak argued two jury trials, two non-jury trials, and sixty-eight appellate cases to completion. For the first six years of her Judgeship, she specialized in commercial litigation, including contracts, class actions, business torts, and commercial landlord/tenant law. Wozniak then shifted her focus to appellate practice, mainly complex commercial litigation in state and federal courts. She also handled appeals for family law, probate, and personal injury cases.
With all the clamor regarding the repeal of various laws, such as the repeal of Abortion, in the last few months, the Florida Supreme Court seems to be making a power grab while the proper role of a Judge or a Justice in a constitutional republic requires humility to accept a limited role within the system.
Out of the five Supreme Court Justices up for merit retention this election season, Canady, Grosshans, and Couriel are the major players in the Supreme Court’s “harsh new majority,” and Florida voters have the power to retain or reject these justices. However, in the 44 years that Florida voters have voted in Judiciary campaigns, a Supreme Court Justice has never been dropped.
Those who are part of the judiciary system are supposed to be neutral or non-partisan in their rulings. However, some of those who currently serve, have acknowledged that the judiciary system has become highly politicized. Most Judges and Justices do their best to curb ideological perspectives and bring civility over philosophical differences to the courtroom. While this may not be true for all, the bad apples can ruin it for the bunch. As Election Day draws closer, Florida voters must do their due diligence and make a proper, informed decision on who they want to retain or reject.
More information on Supreme Court Justices can be found here, and information on U.S. Appellate Court Judges can be found here.
Sources: 4 Florida justices have lost our confidence | A Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel editorial (tampabay.com); Supreme Court justice talks civility, judicial philosophy (mainstreetdailynews.com); Voters have the power to oust far-right justices Nov. 8. Will they use it? (floridabulldog.org); Guide for Florida Voters (gadsdensoe.com); Judicial Activism - Legislating Radical Social Change From the Bench (flfamily.org)
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