Nearly a year after former Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe announced he would try to jump-start his abandoned political career by running for circuit judge, he is roiling election waters again.
McAuliffe, who stepped down from his powerful position as the county’s top prosecutor in 2012 to work for an energy company headed by Palm Beach billionaire Bill Koch, has decided not to face-off on Aug. 28 against another politically-connected judicial candidate.
Instead of running against civil attorney Scott Kerner, the brother of County Commissioner Dave Kerner, for the seat being vacated by retiring Circuit Judge David French, McAuliffe will instead seek the seat held by Circuit Judge Catherine Brunson, who also is retiring.
The opportunity to switch seats arose when Boca Raton attorney Gregory Tendrich decided not to make another bid for the bench, said Rick Asnani, a political consultant who is representing McAuliffe. Tendrich, who ran unsuccessfully in a three-man contest in 2016, told supporters on April 9 he was withdrawing from the race for personal reasons, but likely will run again in the future.
“At the moment, I have a daughter who is graduating from college and completing her final season as a NCAA athlete on a nationally ranked team and another who is getting married later this year,” Tendrich wrote supporters. “I made a promise to my family long ago that I would be present during these joyous occasions and frankly, the campaign would divide my attention.”
The lineup still could change next week, when judicial candidates officially qualify for the August election. As it now stands, Kerner will face Boynton Beach civil attorney Alcolya St. Juste. McAuliffe’s opponents will be: former prosecutor and combat veteran Henry Quinn Johnson, who is now a civil litigator in West Palm Beach, and county Magistrate Sarah Willis.
Tendrich’s exit gave McAuliffe the chance to switch seats to avoid what likely would become a bruising and expensive battle against Kerner, Asnani said.
Both McAuliffe and Kerner are well known in political circles. McAuliffe’s wife is former Circuit Judge Robin Rosenberg, who now sits on the federal bench. Her Palm Beach parents are both well-known Democratic donors. Kerner is the son of a longtime Lake Worth police officer. His younger brother was in the Florida House for two terms before being elected to the county commission.
People said they wanted to support both McAuliffe and Kerner but obviously couldn’t if they were running against each other, Asnani said. “Why have two major campaigns battling it out when we have the opportunity to be in a less-contentious election?” Asnani said.
McAuliffe, who left his job as general counsel for Koch’s West Palm Beach-based Oxbow Carbon in 2016, is now in private practice with attorney Martin Reeder, who represents The Palm Beach Post. Records show that by March 31, McAuliffe had already contributed $250,000 of his own money and raised $70,725. Kerner had raised $62,825.