Comparison of Group 27 Judicial Candidates Keith Meyer and Jeff O’Brien
By Spartacus Thrace
The Sixth Judicial Circuit Group 27 (Pasco and Pinellas counties) runoff election to be determined on November 2, 2010 is a race between experienced attorneys Keith Meyer and Jeff O’Brien, who came in first and second, respectively, in a four-candidate field competing in the August 24th primary election. According to official results of the August 24th primary election, Meyer came in first with 52,327 votes (31.1% of the total cast), and O’Brien came in second with 45,216 votes (26.8% of the total cast). The bottom two candidates, LeAnne Lake (28,666 votes or 17% of the total) and Kelly McKnight (42,219 votes or 25.1% of the total) were eliminated. It is because none of the candidates received in excess of 50% of the vote that the top two vote-getters are in a runoff election. An analysis of the primary election results for all of the Sixth Circuit judicial candidates has appeared in an earlier post on this blog.
L. Keith Meyer, Jr. received his B.A. with Honors in History from Florida State University in 1999 and his law degree from Florida State University in 2000. He began his legal career serving for a few years as a prosecutor in the Office of the State Attorney for the Sixth Judicial Circuit (Pasco and Pinellas Counties), where he worked in both the Misdemeanor and Felony Divisions. After leaving the State Attorney’s Office Meyer went into private practice, handling a broad range of criminal and civil cases. He has no military experience. His civic involvement predates his departure from the State Attorney’s Office and includes serving as a Board Member of Religious Community Services, Inc. (which includes a food bank, a shelter for abused spouses, and homeless assistance), being an active Rotarian, and various pro bono work.
Keith Meyer has been running nonstop for this office since September 18, 2009, when he filed with the Florida Secretary of State. He has a campaign website and a Facebook page, and he is endorsed by State Attorney Bernie McCabe, Public Defender Bob Dillinger, Clerk of Courts Ken Burke, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodges 10 and 43, the St. Petersburg Times, and scores of prominent citizens in Pasco and Pinellas counties. According to campaign finance records, in the period September 18, 2009 through October 8, 2010 Meyer received $59,873.75 in monetary contributions, and $9,896.99 in in-kind donations, had no loans, and had campaign expenditures of $56,538.93.
For the past few years, Meyer was active with the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee, albeit in the background, doing legal work mostly pertaining to election law. He left this position prior to his filing to run for judge and has been scrupulous about not to engage in any partisan activities since.
O’Brien is 63 years old, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been married for 38 years. He moved to Pinellas County with his parents in 1956, where he attended public schools from the third grade. He received an Associates degree from St. Petersburg Junior College in 1968, a B.A. Degree in Business Administration from the University of South Florida in 1969, and a law degree from the University of Florida in 1972. While attending law school O’Brien was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserves after becoming a Distinguished Military Graduate in the university’s ROTC program. He graduated from law school, passed the Florida Bar examination, attended the U.S. Army’s Transportation Corps Officer Basic Course in Newport News, Virginia, and then settled down in Pinellas County to practice law. He eventually left the Army Reserves at the rank of Captain.
O’Brien has been an attorney litigating in the courts of Pinellas County for the past 37 years. He has been a Florida Bar Board-Certified Civil Trial lawyer for over 26 years and for the past 20 years has maintained an AV peer review rating with Martindale-Hubbell for the past 20 years. His complete campaign biography can be found here.
O’Brien has a campaign website and a Facebook page. His financial disclosure statement filed with the Florida Secretary of State lists his net worth as $622,003, which includes his $304,000 home. According to other documents filed with the Secretary of State, he states that he does not have accurate records but estimates that he has participated as legal counsel in more than 200 evidentiary hearings, trials and/or oral arguments, including “many” jury and non-jury trials. He has no record of discipline with The Florida Bar.
O’Brien did not file to run until April 30, 2010 and has never before run for public office. His lateness, lack of political experience, and lack of a substantial record of community involvement have placed him at a disadvantage in this race. He was an almost complete unknown before entering the race. Although he is a Republican, he has no base of support within the local party organization membership and has not solicited such support. One small indicator of his campaign’s lack of sophistication is that his yard signs are only printed on one side. In the period April 30 through October 8, 2010, O’Brien’s campaign finances include $16,200.22 in monetary contributions, $6,100.00 in loans from O’Brien to his campaign, $94.34 in in-kind contributions, and expenditures of $18,659.41.
The strength of his campaign is that O’Brien comes across to those who meet him as sincere, genuine, and very pleasant. He is one of the nicest people to ever run for judge in the Sixth Circuit. The weaknesses of his campaign are that he is a largely unknown figure with nothing in the record to indicate his viewpoint on any issue, his legal career has been unremarkable, his base of support is largely limited to a few civil attorneys, and, due to his age, he will be eligible to serve only one full term as circuit court judge. All of this has made some voters hesitant to cast their ballot for him.
While both Meyers and O’Brien are conservative Republicans, Meyer has been very involved with the community while O’Brien has no known history of political or community activism. Although O’Brien has been an attorney longer than Meyer has been alive, O’Brien’s practice has not been as diverse as Meyer’s and Meyer has had more (and more recent) trial experience.
One of the biggest differences between them is that Meyer has displayed a conservative view of the state and federal constitutions while O’Brien has not. In early judicial candidate forums held over the summer O’Brien seemed quite unfamiliar with either or with their significance to a judicial election campaign. This adds an air of uncertainty about what O’Brien might do on the bench that is not present with Meyer.
There is also the factor that O’Brien can serve only one full term, meaning that there cannot be any sort of long-term voter investment in him and that O’Brien may become a judge untethered from a sense of responsibility to the voters. The Meyer candidacy, on the other hand, offers the voters longevity and long-term accountability should Meyers seek re-election.
While both candidates are competent to become circuit court judges, on balance Meyer is the better choice for conservatives who want a conservative, law-abiding, non-activist circuit court judiciary in Pasco and Pinellas Counties over the long term.