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What’s With All These Judges' Races?

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Creative Commons via Flickr
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Joe Gratz (https://flic.kr/p/bkUna)
More than two dozen judicial races will be decided Aug. 30.

As South Florida voters go to the polls this week during early voting or at your precinct on election day Tuesday, you’ll see a bunch of judicial races listed on your ballot:

Miami-Dade 11th Judicial Circuit Judge Groups 9, 34, 52, 66 and 74; Broward 17th Judicial Circuit Judge Groups 9, 15, 23 and 24Palm Beach 15th Judicial Circuit Judge Groups 1 and 4 -------- Miami-Dade County Judge Groups 5, 7, 15 and 35 Monroe County Judge Group 3 Broward County Judge Groups 2, 3, 7, 8, 13, 14 and 21 Palm Beach County Judge Groups 7, 1 and 15

And over the past few weeks, we’ve heard people ask: What’s the deal with the groups?

Turns out, you really have to dig for this stuff.

The groups have nothing to go with geography like congressional districts. All voters in the county cast votes for all groups. Each group corresponds with a specific judgeship in a specific courtroom. A person running has full discretion about which group to run in as long as it is up for that election.

So what makes one group more or less attractive to run in?

It’s all strategy.

Running against an incumbent might be more difficult because of their name recognition or your opponent might have more money than you do. There could already be people running in one group, so you switch to prevent a three-, four- or five-way race. Or perhaps the opponent in one group has more or less experience than you.

So sometimes people change two, three and sometimes four times, all the way up until the filing deadline, which was noon, May 6 for  Tuesday’s election.

Gov. Rick Scott can appoint judges if there is a vacancy before a specific judge posting is up for election; terms are six years. But, that person has to run to reelection if he or she wants to stay in that posting once the seat is next up for election. So, say a judge retires two years after a judicial term begins and Scott appoints someone to fill the post. But in four years, that person has to run for the seat. You can see all Scott’s nominations and appointments here.

Info about how to file for election, though, is spread out between county elections departments and the state.

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Credit Creative Commons via Flickr / Clyde Robinson (https://flic.kr/p/7z3WDx)
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Clyde Robinson (https://flic.kr/p/7z3WDx)
Most judges races are overseen by the Florida Division of Elections

CIRCUIT JUDGE

The Florida Division of Elections is the body that oversees Circuit, District Courts of Appeals and state Supreme Court races. These judges deal with anything from murder cases to major civil law suits, family law as well and juvenile dependency cases.

One interesting thing though is that only races for circuit and county court seats are competitive elections.  Appeals and Supreme Court races are simply retention races – a yes or no vote. There are no competitors in these races.

Their handbook has details on where, how, and when a person can register for all of these types of races.

You can find everyone who is running for those positions here along with information on who is funding their campaigns.

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Credit Malik Benjamin
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One of the more interesting and contentious Miami-Dade Circuit Court races this year has been the one pitting incumbent Jason Bloch against Marcia Del Ray. Some of Del Ray’s campaign contributions have been linked to a family sex hotel business, which did not go over well with her opponent. Bloch has also been seen on billboards featuring not him but John Walsh, the host of 'America’s Most Wanted.' Bloch’s photograph is positioned behind Walsh’s.

QUALIFICATIONS:

1. Elector and resident of the judicial circuit upon taking office.

2. Must be a member of the Florida Bar for the preceding five years.

3. No judge shall serve after attaining the age of 70 years except upon temporary assignment or to complete a term, one-half of which has been served.

COUNTY COURT JUDGE

County Court judges deal with things like misdemeanors and small civil claims, which is up to $5,000. These judges can also handle other cases with more money involved as long as it's no more than $15,000.

The county elections board governs County Court races. For Miami-Dade, you can find their handbook about how, where and when to register here.

QUALIFICATIONS (Miami-Dade Qualifications)

1. Registered voter of the state.

2. Resident of Miami-Dade County.

3. No judge shall serve after attaining the age of 70 years except upon temporary assignment or to complete a term, one-half of which he or she has served.

4. Member in good standing of Florida Bar for the preceding five years prior to qualifying.