All three PBC circuit judge races head for decision on Nov. 6

Updated Aug 29, 2018
WMMO Orlando

Six years after he abruptly stepped down as Palm Beach County state attorney to accept a lucrative job in the private sector, Michael McAuliffe squeaked into a run-off against former county magistrate Sarah Willis in a race for a circuit judgeship.

Willis and McAuliffe aren’t the only circuit judge candidates who will be back on the ballot Nov. 6.

Attorney Maxine Cheesman will face off against Marybel Reinoso Coleman, a former prosecutor and Royal Palm Beach family law attorney.

Civil attorney Scott Kerner and family law attorney Alcolya St. Juste also were forced into a run-off when neither captured more than 50 percent of the vote in what for all of the judicial candidates were three-person races.

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“You live to campaign another day,” said McAuliffe, 55, when reached at his election watch party at the West Palm Brewery and Wine Vault.

Circuit Court Judge candidate Michael McAuliffe greets a supporter at a watch party at West Palm Brewery & Wine Vault on primary election day Tuesday, August 28, 2018. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post) Photo: Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post

Expressing the sentiments that consumed all of the candidates even as they campaigned to win: “In a three-person race, it’s hard to get 50-plus one,” said McAuliffe, who left his job as state attorney in 2012 to work as general counsel for billionaire Bill Koch’s Oxbow Carbon.

Willis, 38, a former prosecutor who was forced to step down from her three-year job as magistrate to run for office, was the leading vote-getter in the contest to replace retiring Circuit Judge Catherine Brunson.

Sarah Willis

She contributed $23,500 of her own money into her campaign compared to the $250,000 McAuliffe pulled out of his own pockets for the race. Willis raised an additional $34,000 while McAuliffe snared $98,700 in contributions.

The other candidate in the Group 25 race was Henry Quinn Johnson, 51, a former U.S. Army judge advocate and decorated military veteran.

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Coleman, an early favorite in the race to replace retiring Circuit Judge Peter Blanc, stumbled in July when a former client publicly announced that they had an affair in 2013 when she represented him in a divorce - a violation of ethical rules of the Florida Bar.

Coleman, 51, acknowledged the affair, saying it occurred when she was going through personal trauma. Her husband, Eric, a popular major at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and she worked through her infidelity and their marriage is strong, she said.

Cheesman, 62, made a unsuccessful bid for circuit judge in 2016, and said she learned from the experience. A late-comer to the law, she began her legal career after working as a chemist and director at the South Florida Water Management District. The other candidate in the Group 18 race was Assistant Palm Beach County Public Defender Joseph Maryuma.

Kerner, 38, tapped into the support his longtime Lake Worth family has generated over the years. His father, was a popular Lake Worth cop, and his younger brother, Dave, was a state representative before being elected to the Palm Beach County Commission in 2016.

St. Juste, 43, a former attorney for the Florida Department of Children & Families who now has her own family law practice, has long roots in Boynton Beach where she still lives.

The other candidate in the contest for the Group 13 seat held by retiring Circuit Judge David French was Jordan H. Jordan, a chiropractor and doctor. He lives in Coral Springs and said he doesn’t actively practice law.

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