“There is time for all things, and time has come for me to focus on my medical care and enjoying my remaining time with my family,” Evans said in a Aug. 10 letter to Gov. Rick Scott, announcing his resignation.
The 67-year-old Wellington resident said he was diagnosed with lung cancer in March and is being treated at Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa. The diagnosis came after he said he suffered “serious personal injury, involving 20 fractures” late last year.
While he didn’t reveal the cause of his recent injuries, in 2012 he sued Palm Beach County after he slipped and fell in a county parking garage, seriously injuring his knee. The county settled the lawsuit for $50,000.
First elected in 1988, Evans had already announced he would step down when his seventh term ended next year. Five candidates are vying for his seat in the Aug. 28 election. They are: defense attorney Allen Anthony Ambrosino; civil attorney Lloyd Comiter; Broward County assistant public defender Gabriel Ermine; civil attorney Allegra Fung and Palm Beach County assistant public defender Ashley Zuckerman.
Evans’ abrupt departure means the post will be vacant until a new judge takes office in January. While Gov. Rick Scott has fought to appoint judges when vacancies occur, a spokeswoman for the governor said Evans’ successor will be selected by voters.
“There are several candidates running for this judgeship. This was a scheduled retirement. We won’t convene the JNC,” Scott spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said. She was referring to the local Judicial Nominating Commission, which vets judicial candidates for the governor’s consideration.
Attorney Leonard Feuer, who specializes in election law, said because Evans resigned after the election was underway, the voters — not Scott — get to pick his replacement.
“There’s long-standing Florida law that if a judge resigns in an election year when the candidates have already qualified the governor doesn’t get to make an appointment,” Feuer said.
Best known for his gruff demeanor and his penchant for riding his motorcycle to work, Evans has spent the last several years at the county courthouse in Belle Glade, hearing both criminal and civil cases. Before that, he served at the main courthouse in West Palm Beach and the satellite courthouse in Palm Beach Gardens, presiding over misdemeanor criminal cases and civil litigation, such as evictions and lawsuits where less than $15,000 is at stake.
A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, he was proud of the work he did for state and national judicial colleges, training new judges.
He was also well-aware of his reputation as a tough taskmaster. When his opponent in his 2012 re-election campaign criticized him for not treating lawyers with respect, Evans offered no apologies.
“I admit that maybe I’m not soft and fuzzy when I have lawyers come in unprepared to represent their clients,” he said. “They may leave my courtroom not feeling the best because I’m not kind to them, but it’s because I don’t believe that we should accept that level of inadequacy.”
Still, in his resignation letter, he strayed from his trademark style that more than one lawyer described as crotchety.
Calling out judges, bailiffs, magistrates, court staff and court volunteers, he said all have enriched his life. “I will miss them,” he said.