The applicants are all vying for the opportunity to fill the judicial vacancy left by Judge Brian Lambert, who was appointed to the appellate bench by Gov. Rick Scott in late May.
The list is in.
Fourteen members of the local legal community submitted applications to the 5th Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission by Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline. The applicants are all vying for the opportunity to fill the vacancy left by Judge Brian Lambert, who was appointed to the appellate bench by Gov. Rick Scott in late May. The commission will interview all qualified applications on Aug. 8 and then send a short list for consideration to the governor, who will ultimately select a new judge. Scott has 60 days from the time he receives the list to decide.
The 5th Judicial Circuit includes Marion, Sumter, Citrus, Lake and Hernando counties.
When a circuit vacancy occurs, it is possible for other circuit judges to request a transfer, creating an opening in another area of the circuit that would be filled by the new judge. That did not happen with the current vacancy, according to Chief Circuit Judge Don Briggs, and therefore the new judge will remain in Marion County. Circuit judges have jurisdiction in all five counties, however.
On Tuesday, 5th Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission chair Derek Schroth saw a flurry of application activity in the final hours. “I’ve gotten six (applications) today,” he said just before noon.
The final list includes representation from the Public Defender’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office, the county judiciary and attorneys in private practice.
“I expected more applicants. However, those who applied are quite qualified, and the commission looks forward to interviewing each candidate on Aug. 8,” Schroth said.
While selecting a judge is always an important task, diversity advocates are watching this selection with greater interest, as Gov. Scott has come under criticism for not appointing as many African-American judges as his predecessors.
While Marion’s circuit judges are diverse in gender, racial diversity has been nonexistent since the retirement of Judge Sandra Edwards-Stephens in October.
Eugene Pettis, the Florida Bar’s first black president, who concluded his one-year term last month, made diversity a priority of his presidency and appointed a task force that produced a report on the subject, which was shared with the governor’s office.
The local NAACP chapter also expressed concern about the lack of diversity and has lobbied the 5th Circuit JNC through a letter-writing campaign.
The selection criteria given to the Judicial Nomination Commission by the governor’s office does not ask that race be taken into consideration.
Contact April Warren at 867-4065 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ajtwarren.