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- 2013 - December - 25th -

Judges’ spots likely open for months

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

One vacancy on the bench means other judges pitch in to ensure cases don’t become too backed up.

It’s a little tougher with two.

The 4th Judicial Circuit is now in that predicament after Circuit Judge Brian Davis was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last week, 22 months after President Barack Obama first nominated him as a judge in the Middle District of Florida.

The confirmation came a little more than a week after Circuit Judge Jean Johnson died after a prolonged battle with cancer. She was unavailable to work in the months leading to her passing, which meant judges already were compensating.

“Two is a little rougher than one, but we’ll certainly make it,” Chief Judge Donald Moran said.

Davis served in Nassau County, Johnson in Duval County.

Moran said he doesn’t anticipate the combined vacancies to delay cases too much.

“We will work very hard to see that doesn’t happen,” he said.

He said he couldn’t recall the last time two judge positions were vacant at the same time, but this situation is different because of the abruptness.

In the past, Moran said generally transitions have happened when a judge gives a notice of their intent to retire months in advance.

Moran said senior judges will be called upon to help cover any shortages and that the circuit in general is “pretty collegial” and would find ways to make it work while the replacement process takes course.

When asked about the expediency needed to fill the positions, he said “it’s always important” but the nominating process must take place as determined by the state constitution. He said he assumed that process will take a couple of months, at least.

Gov. Rick Scott has not yet issued a letter to activate the circuit’s Judicial Nominating Commission, said Jackie Schutz, Scott’s deputy press secretary.

That letter from Scott could come in early January.

When he does, the nine-member group charged with reviewing applicants will be activated and have 60 days to provide a list of candidates to the governor.

From there, Scott will have 60 days to make a selection, or could reject the names and ask for more.

With two vacancies, those interested in both positions would only have to apply once, Schutz said.

Johnson, 66, has been a Circuit judge since 1996. Davis, 60, was appointed to the bench in 1994.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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