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Politics / Issues

Tampa Area Candidates In Running For Seats On Florida Supreme Court

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Several applicants from the Tampa Bay area will be interviewed for open seats on the Florida Supreme Court. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

With Gov. Ron DeSantis expected to appoint two Florida Supreme Court justices early this year, a state panel is ready to interview 32 applicants for the powerful posts – including several from the Tampa Bay area.

The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission has scheduled all-day sessions on Jan. 11 and Jan. 12 at an Orlando hotel to interview the applicants. After the interviews, the commission will recommend finalists to DeSantis, who will pick the new justices.

The closely watched process stems from the departures of former justices Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa, who were appointed by President Donald Trump to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

DeSantis’ choices could help shape the direction of the Supreme Court for decades, depending on how long his appointees serve. During his first month in office in 2019, DeSantis appointed three justices -- Luck, Lagoa and Carlos Muniz -- who helped create a conservative majority on the seven-member court, which had long frustrated Republican state leaders.

Applicants from the Tampa Bay area who are expected to be interviews on Jan. 11:

  • Judge Kimberly Bonner and Judge Hunter Carroll of the 12th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.
  • Judge Jamie Grosshans of the 5th District Court of Appeal, which includes Hernando County.
  • Judge Anne-Leigh Moe of the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County.
  • Belinda Noah, a Tampa attorney and CEO of Belinda Noah Productions, Inc.

Expected to be interviewed on Jan. 12:

  • Judge Samuel Salario of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which encompasses much of the Tampa Bay region.
  • Judge Meredith Sasso of the 5th District Court of Appeal.

While Luck and Lagoa quickly left for seats on the Atlanta-based federal appeals court, other justices have served long periods on the Supreme Court. Luck, Lagoa and Muniz, for example, replaced former justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who were forced to step down last January because of a mandatory retirement age after two decades on the court.
The list of applicants to replace Luck and Lagoa is dominated by lower-court judges. It includes 11 judges who serve on state district courts of appeal and 16 circuit judges.

DeSantis has made clear he will appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court, an emphasis that is reflected in the backgrounds of many of the applicants.

For instance, nine of the appeals-court judges who have applied were appointed to their current jobs by former Republican Gov. Rick Scott. The other two were appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was elected as a Republican before leaving the party in 2010 to unsuccessfully run as an independent for the U.S. Senate.

But the selection process will draw scrutiny, in part, because the Supreme Court has not had a black justice since Quince retired and does not have a female justice after Lagoa left.

Another issue in DeSantis’ selections is that at least one of the new justices will have to be a resident of the 3rd Appellate District, which is made up of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. That is because each of the state’s five appellate districts must have a representative on the Supreme Court. Luck and Lagoa were from Miami-Dade County.

Other applicants expected to be interviewed Jan. 11:

  • Judge Howard Coates Jr. of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County.
  • John Couriel, an attorney with the Miami firm Kobre & Kim.
  • Jack Cox, a Hobe Sound attorney and former circuit judge.
  • Judge Fabienne Fahnestock of the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County.
  • Manuel Farach, an attorney in the Fort Lauderdale office of the firm McGlinchey Stafford.
  • Judge Renatha Francis of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County.
  • Judge Jonathan Gerber of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Southeast Florida.
  • Judge Jeff Kuntz of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Southeast Florida.
  • Judge Bruce Kyle of the 20th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.
  • Judge Norma Lindsey of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
  •  Judge Howard McGillin of the 7th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties.
  •  Judge Bronwyn Miller of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
  •  Judge Virginia Norton of the 4th Judicial Circuit, which hears cases from Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.

Otyher applicants expected to be interviewed Jan. 12:

  • Judge Timothy Osterhaus of the 1st District Court of Appeal in North Florida.
  • Eliot Pedrosa, a Miami-Dade County attorney who is United States executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank.
  • Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips of the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County.
  • Judge Cymonie Rowe of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County.
  • Judge Lori Rowe of the 1st District Court of Appeal in North Florida.
  • Judge Tatiana Salvador of the 4th Judicial Circuit, which hears cases from Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.
  • Judge Ed Scales of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
  • Judge Elijah Smiley of the 14th Judicial Circuit, which hears cases from Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties.
  • Judge Adrian Soud of the 4th Judicial Circuit, which hears cases from Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.
  • Judge William Thomas of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County.
  • Judge Daryl Trawick of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County.
  • Judge Thomas Winokur of the 1st District Court of Appeal in North Florida.