How We Select Judges

TAMPA -

They're non-partisan. They only appear on primary ballots. And they're limited as to just how they may campaign. So, it's no surprise that some voters are stumped when it comes to choosing a judge.

This has some calling for the appointment of circuit and county judges, a process already adopted at the appellate level.

Judicial candidate forums and bar association preference polls are two ways to learn about candidates for judge. Other sources may include campaign flyers, Web sites, newspaper articles and editorial endorsements.

But because the races are non-partisan and governed by strict rules, some feel there's not enough information available for voters.

Martin Dyckman, a former reporter and member of the St. Petersburg Times editorial board, just published a book on a judicial scandal that rocked Florida's Supreme Court in the 1970s. The circumstance led to passage of a Constitutional Amendment that appellate judges appointed instead of elected. And to Dyckman's call to make all judges appointed.

He'll get no argument from Fred Karl. He was the last person to be elected to the Florida Supreme Court in 1976 the same year the post became an appointed position.

When he campaigned, Karl was troubled by the need to raise money, so he limited his contributions to $100 per person. And he feels it's demeaning to the court to have potential judges campaigning as if they were running for dog catcher.

But there are arguments to keep the circuit and county benches elected because there's the potential that the appointments will be made for political reasons instead of a candidate's merit. Historically judicial appointments have not been diverse. And, at least with elections, a judicial candidate can go face to face with an opponent instead of being victimized by a whisper campaign.

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