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Do Know Your Judges This Election Season?

Your local elections have an immediate impact on your life.

Do Know Your Judges This Election Season?

Contest update: (). JT Simons, P.A., is holding a contest for you to figure out the hidden trivia question in this article. If you win, JT Simons, P.A., will donate $25 to charity. In short, figure out the hidden trivia question, send an email with the answer to JT Simons, and make sure your nonprofit is legitimate. Remember, send the answer to jts@simonslawfirm.com, subject line CONTEST ENTRY, and give me as much information as you can about the nonprofit you want the donation to go to. I need to verify it. I need your first name and the first letter of your last name.

Election season is well under way. The President and Mitt Romney are battling it out in the media on my television, in my newspaper, during my Internet searches, and just about everywhere else I access public information. The millions and millions of dollars that are raised and spent is staggering. A lot of people are debating national issues such as immigration, same-sex marriage, national healthcare implementation and international issues.

On the local level in your neighborhood, you also have some very important races that may have a more immediate impact on your life. You probably have elections for mayor, county commissioners, mosquito control board, clerk of court . 

As I was doing my radio show on Family Law Radio and interviewing a candidate for a local position, it struck me that the outcome of the clerk of court and judicial elections will have more of an immediate impact on my clients and myself than the Presidential race. However, the campaign budgets are much smaller and most people only see the local candidate’s name as they drive by a yard sign. I didn’t even know a former boss of mine was running for mayor until I pulled out of a Walmart and saw the sign. 

You might be thinking: “Why should I care about my local elections? Do I care about my local mosquito control board?”

Your local elections might be more important to you than you know. Think of it this way. What do you know about the last three laws that Congress passed? What do you know about the last three laws that your state legislature passed? Probably not much. But I bet you know whether or not you have been bitten by mosquitoes in your yard this summer.

Electing a local judge might be more important and more difficult than electing any other local official. Many do not know a lot about their local candidates. They simply vote along party lines. However, judges don’t run as Republicans or Democrats. So how do you choose the right candidate for judge? This is just one reason that it is so important to take the time to research your judicial candidates.

However, there are other important reasons to research and select your judicial candidates carefully. Judges are attorneys and attorneys can only practice in so many areas. Some attorneys concentrate on bankruptcy, contracts, family law, social security, personal injury, or real estate, to name a few.

However, a judge that spent his or her career as a state attorney prosecuting felons may be asked to preside over your divorce or your contract case. A judge that spent his or her career as a commercial litigator may now preside over your probate or guardianship case. The judge may have little control over what division the judge is assigned to (I honestly do not know how a judge is assigned to a specific division), but I will tell you that it is critical to know the judge’s general paradigm and general experience. It is important to know your candidate’s experience and former practice areas.

Whether a judge has experience in a certain area is not the only thing that matters. Another consideration is how many years of experience the candidate has. You can also consider the candidate’s former community involvement and community service. Prior community service can show a devotion to the community that is important in an elected official.

Many of the candidates will attend local events and will hold special events of their own. Take the time to attend these events. This will give you the opportunity to meet the candidate and ask them about their experience and activities. It will also give you the opportunity to evaluate firsthand their feelings about being a judge, and determine whether they are passionate about serving the community as a judge fairly and without bias.

Neither you nor I can control what division a judge will preside over, but we can control how passionate, knowledgeable, and experienced our candidates are so we are assured the candidate will work hard to preside in a fair, impartial, and informed manner. As an attorney, I can handle losing a case if I know the judge took the time and effort to make a decision that follows the law and meets the standards of justice. 

In other words, rather than looking for the nicest yard sign or sharpest website, research the candidate’s qualifications. For a sitting judge that has a contested election, review the judge’s previous rulings. For a candidate that is not an incumbent, learn the judge’s trial experience, areas of practice, and reason for running for office. 

How can you learn about your local elections including your judicial candidates?  For judges, I found the following link helpful to identify the candidates for circuit court judge.  The candidates for county court judge can be found here. Once you find the candidates’ names, there are many ways to investigate the candidate and educate yourself about the candidate. Most candidates have a website and almost all candidates have a Facebook page. On the websites and Facebook pages, you can send questions and comments to get individual feedback on the issues that matter to you most. Additionally, you can get additional information on judges and attorneys from the Florida Bar Member Search site, Martindale and Avvo

I personally find the Patch.com website that you are reading right now to be a great resource for what is happening with your local government and the candidates. The Tampa Bay Times has more regional coverage for regional candidates based on your address. 

So Westchase, elections are coming up and your local elections are very important. Get educated. Let me encourage you by asking this trivia question:  Who is the Chief Judge for your circuit? Please tell me the Circuit or County you are in so I can verify.  And whoever you choose to vote for, please turn up for your local elections. It is more important than you realize.

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