The Coming 2012 Judicial Races In Pinellas County
By Angry Wasp
While I was at the local K-Mart the other day, I ran into one of my cop friends. He was talking to me about having to go to court two weeks ago to testify in front of some judge about a drunk driver. As he was telling me what happened in court and what he thought of the judge, I realized that I didn’t know much about who the local judges are, how much they are paid, or when they are on the ballot. After talking to several of my friends about this, I got the impression that a lot of people are in the same boat when it comes to knowing anything about our judges. Geez, I thought, this isn’t good with all the crap going on in government today.
So I sat down at the computer to find out what I could. The first thing I found out is that the judiciary is kind of like a secret arm of the government when it comes to finding out about individual judges. There is next to squat out there when it comes to detailed information.
I was able, however, to get a lot of salary information, and I found an interesting national survey of judicial salaries here. I also found the following salary information in the Governor’s FY 2010-2011 Recommended General Appropriations Act, in Section 8, on page 340:
Governor — $130,273
Lieutenant Governor — $124,851
Chief Financial Officer — $128,972
Attorney General — $128,972
Agriculture, Commissioner of — $128,972
Supreme Court Justice — $157,976
Judges – District Courts of Appeal — $150,077
Judges – Circuit Courts — $142,178
Judges – County Courts — $134,280
Commissioner – Public Service Commission — $130,036
Public Employees Relations Commission Chair — $95,789
Public Employees Relations Commission Commissioners — $90,724
Commissioner – Parole and Probation — $90,724
State Attorneys and Public Defenders — $150,077
Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsels — $98,000
The state legislature passed the budget bill on April 30, 2010 with these recommendations in it and Governor Crist, after vetoing some parts of it that did not relate to the judiciary, signed it into law on May 28, 2010. Interestingly, it looks like every judge, even a county court judge, makes more money than the Governor.
I also found out that all Florida judges have six-year terms and a mandatory retirement age. The Florida Constitution, Article V, Section 8, which establishes the eligibility requirements to be a Florida judge, provides:
No person shall be eligible for office of justice or judge of any court unless the person is an elector of the state and resides in the territorial jurisdiction of the court. No justice or judge shall serve after attaining the age of seventy years except upon temporary assignment or to complete a term, one-half of which has been served. No person is eligible for the office of justice of the supreme court or judge of a district court of appeal unless the person is, and has been for the preceding ten years, a member of the bar of Florida. No person is eligible for the office of circuit judge unless the person is, and has been for the preceding five years, a member of the bar of Florida. Unless otherwise provided by general law, no person is eligible for the office of county court judge unless the person is, and has been for the preceding five years, a member of the bar of Florida. Unless otherwise provided by general law, a person shall be eligible for election or appointment to the office of county court judge in a county having a population of 40,000 or less if the person is a member in good standing of the bar of Florida.
This means that the exact date of retirement depends upon when the 70th birthday occurs. If it occurs during the first half of a judge’s six-year term, then the mandatory retirement age is the same as the birthday. If the 70th birthday occurs in the second half of a judge’s six-year term, then the judge can remain in office until the full term expires.
A lawyer in my neighborhood also helped me make some sense out of the way judicial salaries are set by pointing out Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.244, which provides that appellate court judges get paid 95% of the salary of supreme court justices, circuit court judges 90%, and county court judges 85%.
I was also able to find out who the state judges are who will be up for retention or re-election in 2012 that Pinellas County voters can vote on, but I didn’t have time to dig into the backgrounds of any of them at this point. Maybe this post will nudge other political research bloggers looking ahead to the 2012 elections.
Florida Supreme Court (Retention)
Florida supreme court justices serve six-year terms and are subject to a merit retention vote. A retention vote means that is more than 50% of the voters who cast ballots vote not to retain a justice, that justice is fired. I could not find a single example of any judge in Florida ever losing a retention vote.
Second District Court of Appeal (Retention)
Sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judges (Election)
Fifteen of the 45 judges on the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court bench will be up for election in 2012, at least two of which will be subject to mandatory retirement and ineligible to run again. They are:
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 4: Lynn Tepper
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 9: Christine “Chris” Thom Helinger
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 10: Philip James Federico
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 11: William Douglas Baird
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 12: Dee Anna Farnell
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 14: William Robert Webb
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 15: Richard A. Luce
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 23: Amy M. Williams
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 24: Joseph Anthony Bulone
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 31: David Alan Demers
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 32: Pat Edward Siracusa, Jr.
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 34: Nancy Moate Ley
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 36: Frank Quesada
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 40: Thomas Hannon Minkoff
Judge of the Circuit Court Group 45: Jack Day
County Judges (Election)
Seven of the 16 judges on the Pinellas County Court bench will be up for election in 2012. They are:
Judge of the County Court Group 5: Donald E. Horrox
Judge of the County Court Group 7: Myra Scott McNary
Judge of the County Court Group 9: Walt Fullerton
Judge of the County Court Group 11: William H. Overton
Judge of the County Court Group 16: Lorraine Kelly
Judge of the County Court Group 17: Susan Bedinghaus
The Political and Financial Stakes
The people, through the state constitution and the laws of Florida, have given judges a lot of power and authority over the lives of the populace. The people thus have an enormous political stake in the judiciary. They also have an enormous financial stake: The salaries paid by taxpayers for those judges up for retention or election amounts to $473,928 for the supreme court justices, $600,308 for the four appellate court judges, $2,132,670 for the fifteen circuit court judges, and $939,960 for the seven county court judges, for a total annual cost to taxpayers of $4,146,866, and a cost over six years of $24,881,196. That’s a lot of taxpayer money, and it doesn’t include additional money spend on the salaries of the judicial assistants each judge has, and the administrative support costs such as courthouse staff, security, and travel.
This means that voters who do not pay close attention to who is a member of the judiciary do so at their own peril and the peril of the greater electorate. The 2012 election may seem to be a long way off, but it is not too early for bloggers, activist groups, and perhaps even candidates to start looking at the coming judicial elections.