After questioning retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s legal chops, a local judicial nominating commission on Tuesday agreed he is one of six attorneys Gov. Rick Scott should consider for an opening on the Palm Beach County bench.
Rooney, 47, who announced he will retire in January when his fifth term in Congress is up, made the short list after the Judicial Nominating Commission interviewed 32 applicants on Monday. All but Rooney are women.
In a letter to Scott, the commission also recommended: Melanie Casper, a former public defender who now works for the Palm Beach County state attorney; Chief Assistant Palm Beach County State Attorney Adrienne Ellis; civil attorney Paige Hardy Gillman; Assistant Florida Attorney General Sarah Shullman and County Magistrate Maxine Williams.
Shullman, Ellis and Williams have been recommended for openings on the bench before. Scott has not given a timeline for the appointment but he asked the commission to expedite its vetting process.
The vacancy occurred when Judge Dana Santino was removed from office by the Florida Supreme Court last month for making inappropriate comments about her opponent while campaigning for office in 2016. A county judge oversees misdemeanor cases, which are punishable by less than a year in jail, and minor civil cases, such as evictions, or when less than $15,000 is at stake.
During his interview, Rooney acknowledged that it’s been a long time since he last practiced law. But the former U.S. Army judge advocate, who is a member of the wealthy, politically-connected Rooney family, said he’s a fast learner. The Republican lawmaker said he’s frustrated by the gridlock in Washington and wanted to spend more time with his family.
“I think the county court level is a place where I can start, I can learn quickly and I can do a good job. But ultimately that decision is up to you. I understand that people might have a better immediate resume. But I have every confidence in the world in myself that I can pick it up very quickly,” Rooney said.
If he is selected by Scott, a fellow Republican, Rooney would have to resign from his Congressional seat where he represents a vast rural swath of Florida from Okeechobee to Venice on the state’s Gulf Coast.