Palm Beach County voters will see three Florida Supreme Court justices and six 4th District Court of Appeal judges up for merit retention on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The Post recommends that all nine — Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, Justice Charles T. Canady and Justice Ricky Polston for the Supreme Court; Chief Judge Cory J. Ciklin, and Judges Dorian K. Damoorgian, Jonathan D. Gerber, Robert M. Gross, Spencer D. Levin and Melanie G. May on the 4th DCA — be retained.
Florida has had a long and successful policy of using merit retention elections as a democratic check on appellate court judges. The system allows voters to decide whether a sitting appellate judge should remain on the bench with a simple ballot question: “Shall Justice/Judge (name) of the _________ court be retained in office?” The system applies to all state judges on the courts of appeal, including the Florida Supreme Court.
The great advantage of merit retention, implemented — after a series of judicial scandals — in 1976 to make the Florida court system more professional, makes the high-level judiciary part of the democratic process. But by limiting the ballot question to issues of “merit,” the judges avoid the political pressures of testy, often negative partisan races which can destroy faith in the legitimacy and fairness of the court system.
Yes, merit retention has its critics. Some correctly point out that no Florida appellate judge or Supreme Court justice has been removed through retention elections. But the fact that voters are generally satisfied with the state judiciary should be seen as a vote for the quality of the judiciary, not a failure of the system.
A recent survey of members of the Florida Bar found that 8 of 10 bar members who had knowledge of the judges on the ballot — especially those who try cases before them — favored their retention.
The removal of a judge should not be done lightly, or easily. They are faced with many challenging cases that can call for rulings that may be polarizing or unpopular. The demands of public opinion and justice can often differ. Merit retention balances the need of the judiciary to be answerable to the people, with the need to have judges act on law instead of public opinion.
We recommend voting “yes” on your ballot to retain these appellate judges.