Circuit Judge candidates spar at League of Women Voters forum

Judicial candidates debated at a League of Women Voters forum in Winter Park.

Circuit Court Judge Craig McCarthy sparred with his challenger Stephen Brown at a League of Women Voters forum in Winter Park, as McCarthy readies for his first real test after Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to the bench.

McCarthy and Brown are facing each other on the Aug. 20 ballot. They were among nearly a dozen judicial candidates in Orange and Osceola counties at the forum. The two are running for Group 43 in the Ninth Circuit. (The entire forum is viewable online here at the LWV of Orange County’s Facebook page.)

Brown argued he was more qualified than McCarthy and complained that McCarthy doesn’t hold court on Fridays, which slows down the backlog of cases.

“I’m the only candidate in my race that has ever tried a case before a jury, and I’ve done it more than 70 times,” Brown told the crowd. “My opponent has not had court on Friday … as far as back as I could look on the court’s calendar. We should be working five days a week for the salary that you all are paying.”

McCarthy, who had been a General Magistrate before DeSantis appointed him to be a circuit court Judge, shot back.

McCarthy argued he deserves to be re-elected because he has always advocated for the underdog and took offense at the suggestion that he had Fridays off.

“I do work seven days a week. By the way, Friday is my writing day. It’s also my day for emergency motions and for anything that got contended,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy touted his legal career, including his first job litigating in domestic violence cases and being board certified in juvenile law.

“My wife and I have built a law firm around that ethos of protecting the vulnerable, being in the corner of those who need a little courage, and that’s how I approach my time on the bench as well,” said McCarthy, who was in the first generation in his family to go to college and later became a West Point graduate.

“I’ve never been politically connected, so the fact that I’m here, it’s kind of amazing to me,” McCarthy added.

Brown took a dig at McCarthy’s appointment.

“Our Judges in Central Florida should match our values in Central Florida,” Brown said.

“I’m also the only candidate in my race that has criminal law experience, which I’ve done as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney which I think most people would agree is important for our community.”

During the Q&A, one audience members asked all the judicial candidates to raise their hand if they are members of the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian legal organization.

Only McCarthy spoke out.

“When I was in law school, I was a member of the federalist society. It was the only organization I knew at Florida State College of Law that had debate events with both sides, and I found it valuable,” McCarthy said. “I was never again a member until after I was appointed to the bench. I did join for the calendar year 2023 because I started joining a lot of civic organizations I did not renew at the end of that year.”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .

One comment

  • Phil Morton

    July 10, 2024 at 9:12 pm

    Brown for the win!


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