110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Ethics canon rules what they can say, do — forum may help
posted Jul 31, 2012 - 1:42:12pm
One of the five candidates in the county-judge Group 4 race told of knocking on doors in Pierson, introducing himself and talking to residents about the Aug. 14 election, when voters will choose two county judges.
Frequently, the candidate said, those who answered the doors asked the same question: What’s your political party?
The candidate couldn’t answer. He isn’t allowed to. Although his party registration is a matter of public record, judicial candidates can’t talk about their political-party affiliations.
They also can’t answer a lot of other questions voters might ask prospective county judges, such as “What do you think about drunk driving?” or “Should landlords have to return tenants’ damage deposits in most cases?”
Since county judges preside over misdemeanor criminal cases, traffic matters and civil cases involving disputes over less than $15,000, these are things voters might want to know.
However, in the name of protecting the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, the candidates can’t talk about issues in a way that could be interpreted as their making a promise to rule one way or the other, or that might seem like making a judgment without reviewing the actual facts of an actual case, and making a decision based on the applicable law.
Canon 7 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct governs the behavior both of judges and candidates for judicial office. The Office of the State Courts Administrator publishes a 121-page guide to Canon 7, and the document is filled with hairsplitting rulings from through the years about what judicial candidates can and cannot do, and details about the trouble they can get in by failing to follow the rules.
All this can make it a bit difficult for voters to get to know the candidates in judicial races, DeLand resident Tabatha M. Grimes found.
Grimes has been voting since she was eligible, and has been active in politics since 2000. Before this year, however, she didn’t pay a lot of attention to judicial races, partly because information is typically so scarce.
This year, Grimes is out to sharpen voters’ awareness of judicial races. She’s hosting a forum for county-judge candidates 5:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 28, at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave.
All seven candidates in Volusia County’s two county-judge races have confirmed they will be there, Grimes said.
Grimes contacted the five candidates in the county-judge Group 4 race, and the two candidates in the county-judge Group 8 race, and asked their advice about how to put the forum together so that it would not be against the rules for anyone to take part.
Each of the seven candidates will submit a question, and both the local Republican club and Democratic club will each submit one question, and Grimes herself will create one question. All seven candidates then will answer all 10 questions. The City Hall meeting room is reserved until 9 p.m., so there may be some time for meeting and greeting after the formal question-and-answer period.
Grimes is hoping voters won’t forget about the third branch of government while they are focusing on the more talked-about races for executive-branch and legislative-branch offices.
“To have the third branch is very important,” she said. “Being involved, I think, with your government and your community … and having the knowledge to be involved, I think is important.”
She paid the $50 rental fee for DeLand City Hall herself.
“My main goal is to have informed voters,” Grimes said. “That’s the beautiful nature of our country; you get to make choices. But if you don’t know your choices, how can you make them?”
Grimes, a single mom, will likely be accompanied at the judicial forum by her two children: Taylor, who is 12, and Savannah, who is 9. Taylor has long been involved in politics, as he accompanied his mother into the voting booth for the first time before his first birthday. Both children are often at her side as she takes part in the political process. She hopes she’s teaching them to be good and active citizens.
“I try to make it as fun for them as possible,” she said.
County-judge election: Two seats, 7 candidates
Meet the candidates for Volusia County county judge at a forum 5:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 28, at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave.
All are welcome to the free event, and all seven judicial candidates have confirmed they will take part, according to the organizer.
Both county-judge races will be on the primary ballot Tuesday, Aug. 14.
The races are nonpartisan and countywide, so all registered voters can cast ballots in both the Group 4 and Group 8 races.
County judges serve six-year terms.
Five attorneys qualified to run for county judge Group 4, a vacancy created when Peter F. Marshall announced he would retire.
The candidates are Steven Burk, Dustin Havens, Alan Holt, Christopher Kelly and Adam Warren.
Group 8 incumbent County Judge Bryan Feigenbaum faces a challenge by attorney Michael McDermott.
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