by Mike Sharkey
One local election down, two to go.
In an election you probably didn’t even know occurred, Chief Judge Donald Moran was chosen earlier this month to serve another two-year term as chief judge of the 4th Judicial Circuit.
Earlier this week, court administrator Britt Beasley informed Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead that Moran had been selected to remain as chief judge for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties. The vote was unanimous — in a sense — among all 31 Circuit and 17 County judges.
According to Beasley, judicial administration rules dictate that each judicial circuit elect a chief judge before the end of February in odd-numbered years.
“In early February, I sent out a memo to all the judges seeking nominations from all of them for qualified judges,” said Beasley, explaining that all 48 local judges can nominate someone, but only Circuit Court judges qualify to serve as chief judge. “I made Feb. 18 at noon the deadline for nominations. No one nominated anyone, so Moran was reelected.”
Beasley said the fact that none of the judges nominated one of their peers is much more a reflection of the job Moran is doing than indifference towards who’s chief judge.
“It’s a very positive reflection on his administrative abilities,” said Beasley, adding the job comes with no perks and no ceremony. “There’s no additional compensation or fanfare.”
Moran said he enjoys the ability being chief judge gives him to interact with other judges regularly and oversee the entire 4th Circuit, from the judges in Nassau County to the clerks in Duval.
“I believe we have a very cooperative circuit,” said Moran, adding he gets to Clay and Nassau counties as often as possible and, thankfully, rarely because he has to. “I try to go out there, but I don’t go as often as I should. I do go, but mostly to say hi and let them know I appreciate what they are doing.”
As much as anything, Moran says he values the cohesion of his judicial circuit. Based on conversations he has with other chief judges, his job could be much more difficult.
“I deal with other chief judges all the time,” he said. “I know what they have to deal with.”
Moran’s fifth term — he was first elected in February 1995 — will begin July 1 and end June 30, 2005. Beasley explained that it’s not uncommon locally for a judge to remain chief judge for several years. With the exception of a brief period in which Henry Martin served as chief judge, Moran is only the third different chief judge in recent memory.
“In the 4th Circuit, it’s common for chief judges, and this goes back to Cliff Sheppard and John Santora, to serve lengthy terms. It’s not that way in other circuits,” said Beasley.
Santora was removed by the Florida Supreme Court after making insensitive comments about interracial marriages. Being the senior Circuit Court judge, Martin was appointed to finish Santora’s term. Beasley explained that because Martin was within two years of retirement, he wasn’t reelected chief judge. The position then went to Moran.