Southwest Floridians have the opportunity to retain or oust from office four judges in the Second District Court of Appeal and one Florida Supreme Court justice this election.

The Second District Court of Appeal hears cases from 14 counties, including Charlotte, Sarasota, DeSoto, Lee, Hendry, Glades, Collier, Manatee, Hills-borough, Pasco, Pinellas, Hardee, Highlands and Polk. The court’s main operations are in Tampa, with the clerk of court based in Lakeland. There are 16 judges on the court, and between 5,500 and 6,300 cases are filed annually.

The Supervisor of Elections has handouts on the judges at its office, but Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis stated only county judges are qualified by local Supervisor of Elections offices. Since few voters have direct knowledge of appeals judges and Supreme Court justices, the Florida Bar conducts a poll prior to the election on whether its members approve the retention of the judges and justices or not.

“Lawyers are in a unique position to put in their educated opinions, given what we do and what we read and what we need to research is more information for the public to make their education decision,” said Florida Bar President Michelle Suskauer.

She said while not all attorneys have firsthand knowledge of the judges, all of them are reading their opinions and dissents for how they decide cases.

“It’s important to be an educated voter, whether voting on an amendment, merit retention, or a judge up for election,” she said. “These decisions are important. Unfortunately, the information out there is spotty or maybe possibly confusing. I think the public looks to the Florida Bar, which is one of the largest mandatory bars in the country, as a source of information that’s credible that they can rely on to help educate them as to what to do.”

The judges up for retention are Chief Judge Edward C. LaRose, Judge Anthony K. Black, Judge Darryl C. Casanueva, and Judge Susan H. Rothstein-Youakim.

Chief Judge LaRose has served on the court since 2005, when he was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. He graduated from Cornell Law School in 1980, after which he started his legal career in Washington, D.C., practicing in the area of antitrust law. From 1983 until his appointment, he practiced commercial litigation, antitrust, and employment law at the firm of Trenam Kemker Scharf Barkin Frye O’Neill & Mullis in Tampa.

The Florida Bar, which conducts a retention poll to guide voters, approved his retention by 90 percent of poll participants.

Judge Anthony K. Black has served on the Second District court of Appeal since 2010 when he was appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Prior to his appointment, he was a circuit judge in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in Tampa for eight years. Originally from Wheaton, Illinois, he graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1983 before going into private practice for nineteen years. He also served as a certified mediator and represented several NFL football players as a Certified National Football League Player Agent.

The Florida Bar approved Black’s retention, also with a 90 percent vote.

Judge Darryl C. Casanueva has served on the court since 1998, serving as chief judge from July 2009 to June 2011. A native Floridian, he received his J.D. from Loyola University School of Law in 1976. He began his career as an assistant state attorney in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, then became a partner in the Port Charlotte law firm of Olmsted, Schwarz, Kahle & Casanueva. From 1991 to 1998, he served as a circuit judge, working mainly in Punta Gorda.

Casanueva was also approved by the Bar with a 90 percent vote.

Judge Susan H. Rothstein-Youakim has served on the court since 2016. She previously worked in the United States Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida from 1995 to 2016. She graduated from the University of Florida College of Law in 1993 and is a Sarasota native.

The Bar voted to retain Rothstein-Youakim with an 86 percent vote.

For the Supreme Court, Justice Alan Lawson has served on the court since 2016. He previously served in the Fifth District Court of Appeal and the Ninth Judicial Circuit, where he was chief judge from 2015 to 2016. Originally from Lakeland, he received his J.D. from Florida State University in 1987. Lawson received an 87 percent vote to retain

For the merit retention elections, a yes vote means a vote to keep the judge or justice on the court for another six-year term, while a “no” vote is a vote to have the judge or justice removed from the court. There are no opponents, and the races are nonpartisan.

New judges and justices are appointed by the governor from lists submitted by Judicial Nominating Commissions, which screen candidates and make recommendations based on their merits. Newly appointed judges go on the ballot for the first time two years after appointment. If they are retained at that time, they go on the ballot every six years after that.

More information on merit retention is available on the Bar’s website at https://www.floridabar.org/public/faircts/votes010/.

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