October 23, 2020
For Immediate Release:
Florida Family Action Releases
Statement on Its Process for Researching
& Recommending Appellate Court Judges:
In determining whether to recommend a YES or NO vote in Merit Retention races for Florida Appellate Judges, Florida Family Action’s staff undertakes an extensive research process that involves a team of lawyers, law clerks, research assistants, and hundreds of hours of work.
The primary focus of the research is to ascertain the judge’s legal or judicial philosophy. Secondarily, experience, fairness, efficiency, and temperament are additional factors. Finally, personal character, reputation, and integrity issues are also weighed in the process.
Our research process includes the following:
1) Review of Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) applications.
2) Watching available JNC video judicial candidate interviews.
3) Determining judicial philosophy by reading written legal opinions, noting majority and dissenting opinions.
4) Open internet searches for news and other relevant information on the judge, including speeches, articles written, or other news stories.
5) Social media searches about the judge and or the judge’s immediate family members.
6) Online client and lawyer reviews at judge rating websites.
7) Confidential interviews with lawyers and judges who know and can speak to the candidate’s reputation and character.
8) Searches for records of past or present lawyer or judge disciplinary proceedings.
9) Review of past or present local bar association ratings.
10) Review of past law firm websites or judge campaign websites.
11) Searches for evidence of personal financial contributions and or support of community, charitable, advocacy, or religious organizations.
12) Pulling voting records for political party affiliation and record of voting regularity.
13) Review of Florida Bar Judicial Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statements.
14) Background searches for past criminal records, bankruptcies, consumer debt, traffic violations, divorces, lawsuits filed by the judge in a personal capacity, or lawsuits filed against the judge.
15) Research on what type of law clerks the judge employed.
Trial court judges and appellate court judges are evaluated in a slightly different way. Judicial philosophy and personal convictions are weighed as more critical for appellate court judges.
For trial court judges, practical issues like experience, demeanor and fairness are weighed more heavily. Character, reputation and integrity are also factors used to weigh the ratings and recommendations for all judicial candidates.
In 2005, our flagship sister group Florida Family Policy Council, retained constitutional attorney Jim Bopp and sued the Florida Bar and the Judicial Ethics Advisory Commission (JEAC) over the gag order contained in the Judicial Canons, which prevents judge candidates from announcing their views on disputed legal or political issues. This lawsuit was based on the US Supreme Court case of Republican Party of Minnesota vs White where the court struck down that state’s judicial canon as a violation of the First Amendment’s Free Speech clause. The Florida case was unsuccessful but it did provoke enough debate by leaders within the Florida Bar to motivate the creation of the current Florida Bar Judicial Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement in 2010.
Florida Family Action is the only advocacy group in Florida that researches and makes voter recommendations on every judicial race in all 67 county ballots, including County, Circuit Civil, District Courts of Appeal, and Florida Supreme Court. For over 15 years, we have provided this service to our constituents and to the general public.
The 2020 General Election Judicial Voter Guide can be downloaded here.
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