Voters return to the bench five Supreme Court Justices and 28 appellate judges

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom
Appellate judges are appointed by Florida Governors, but they must be retained by state voters at least once every six years.

Voters returned five justices to the Florida Supreme Court and OK’d 28 appellate court judges, keeping intact the composition of the appellate court system that recently was described as one of the most business-friendly in the nation.

Two of the Supreme Court Justices voters approved Tuesday night — John D. Couriel and Jamie Grosshans — were appointed to the state’s high court by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020. The other three — Justices Charles T. Canady, Jorge Labarga and Ricky Polston — were appointed to the court by former Gov. Charlie Crist.

The judges were retained, each earning about a 63% approval rating from Florida voters.

While Supreme Court and appellate judges are appointed by Governors, Florida voters are given the opportunity to keep them in office or to vote them out. Florida requires appellate court judges and Supreme Court Justices to — once every six years — appear on the ballot in nonpartisan races.

No justice or judge has been removed from office due to a retention vote, and the 2022 General Election was no exception.

To help inform voters, the Florida Bar surveys its in-state members about the Supreme Court and appellate court judges. The Florida Bar’s Constitutional Judiciary Committee oversees the statewide merit retention poll.

The 2022 poll was sent to Bar members in late August and results were published in September.

Supreme Court Justice Grosshans, appointed to the court on Sept. 14, 2020, had the lowest retention scores (59%) of the five Justices on the ballot, followed by Couriel (63%), who was appointed to the court on June 1, 2020.

Conversely, Judge Labarga had the highest score, with 85% of the polls’ respondents recommending he be retained.

The poll asks in-state lawyers whether they have “considerable” or “limited knowledge” of the justices and judges they are being asked to weigh in on. Using that information, the Bar also publishes the retention results based on the respondent’s level of knowledge of the judges.

Retention rates for four of the five Supreme Court justices on Tuesday’s ballot were higher among lawyers who reported having “limited knowledge” of the judges compared to those who reported having considerable knowledge.

Labarga, who had the highest overall retention rate, was the sole exception. Among lawyers who reported having extensive knowledge of Labarga, 87% recommended his retention. But the figure dips to 83% for those lawyers who report having limited knowledge of the Justice.

Canady’s retention rate among lawyers with limited knowledge was 78%, 9 points higher than his retention rates among lawyers who reported having considerable knowledge of Canady. Overall, 73% of respondents supported retaining Canady.

Voters on Tuesday also returned 28 judges to the five District Courts of Appeal (DCA). There are five appellate courts across the state.

Judges Ross L. Bilbrey, Susan L. Kelsey, Robert E. Long Jr., Lori S. Rowe, and Thomas “Bo” Winokur will return to the 1st DCA after being retained by voters.

Judges Patricia Kelly, Nelly N. Khouzam, Suzanne Youmans Labrit, Matthew C. Lucas, Robert James Morris, Stevan T. Northcutt, John K. Stargel and Craig C. Villanti will return to the 2nd DCA after being retained by voters.

Judges Alexander Spicola Bokor and Edwin A. Scales will return to the 3rd DCA.

Judges Ed Artau, Cory J. Ciklin, Dorian K. Damoorgian, Jonathan D. Gerber, Robert M. Gross, Spencer D. Levine and Melanie G. May will return to the 4th DCA.

Judges Jay P. Cohen, James A. Edwards, Brian D. Lambert, Mary Alice Nardella, Daniel E. Traver and Carrie Ann Wozniak will return to the 5th DCA.

At a recent Chamber of Commerce event in Orlando, Jason Gonzalez, managing partner of the Tallahassee office of Shutts and Bowen, said Florida’s appellate courts had, in the past, helped the state earn the dubious distinction of being designated a judicial “hellhole.”

Since then, though, Gonzalez said Republican Governors have made 36 appointments to state appellate courts and six appointments to the Florida Supreme Court.

“Many people believe it is the best appellate judiciary in the nation for improving the business climate,” he said at the event.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.

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