After convening for nearly nine hours to interview applicants and then deliberating for about three hours, Wednesday evening the Judicial Nominating Commission for the 4th Judicial Circuit presented to Gov. Rick Scott the names of six nominees to fill the vacancy created by the early retirement of Circuit Judge Robert Foster.
The interview and deliberation due process was the culmination of hundreds of hours of vetting applications received from 18 judicial hopefuls since May 1, when the notice announcing the vacancy was released to the public.
The eight-member panel of attorneys completed its work two days ahead of the deadline set down by Scott after Foster in April notified the governor and chief judge of his resignation.
The candidates comprise two incumbent judges, a magistrate and three attorneys in government and private practice.
The nominees, in alphabetical order:
• Duval County Judge Lester Bass, 55, who began his legal career as an attorney at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. Bass was appointed to the bench by Scott in 2014 after 11 years as a general magistrate and civil traffic hearing officer.
In his interview, Bass said he offered his name for the vacancy because “my legal career has been about service” and “I keep moving forward. That’s what I want to do.”
• Attorney Michael Fackler, 46, is a shareholder at Milam Howard Nicandri & Renner.
He was a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger for two years before going into private general commercial litigation practice at McGuireWoods. He joined Milam Howard in 2007 and became a partner in 2016.
When the commission asked about his limited jury trial experience, Fackler said while he was a law clerk, he was involved in numerous federal jury trials and, “I’m confident I can learn.”
• From Broward County, 17th Circuit Judge Charles Greene, 61, is a former assistant state attorney and also was in private practice before he was elected to the bench in 1990.
His current six-year term expires in January 2021.
A part-time resident of Amelia Island, Greene said he applied for the vacancy in another judicial circuit because he enjoys serving on the bench, but would like a permanent change of residence.
“I love my job. I’m not looking for a new job, I’m looking for a job transfer,” he said in his interview.
• General Magistrate Robin Lanigan, 49, graduated from Florida Coastal School of Law in 2000 and went into private practice specializing in family law.
She has conducted more than 1,500 family law hearings since she was appointed in 2016.
A former adjunct professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville, she taught family law in the paralegal program from 2008 to 2011.
In her interview, Lanigan said she was unanimously recommended for selection as a magistrate by the family law judges in the 4th Circuit and “I want to learn something different.”
• Rhonda Peoples-Waters, 44, is owner and president of Rhonda People-Waters PA.
An assistant public defender in Jacksonville from 1999-2007, she specializes in criminal law and also represents plaintiffs in personal injury claims.
Peoples-Waters is a former member of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission and past president of the D.W. Perkins Bar Association.
In her interview, she cited her work ethic and experience in civil and criminal law as well as her ability to serve as a role model for young African-Americans.
“It’s not just what I do at the courthouse, people look at you and your character,” said Peoples-Waters.
• David Tucker, 56, is Northeast regional counsel for the Department of Children and Families.
He also is appointed as an informal hearing officer and presides over contested adoption reviews, child care licensing issues and evidentiary hearings.
Practicing since 1987, Tucker is a former county attorney in Escambia County. While he has not tried a jury case, “that’s something I can learn,” and “when you’ve been doing law for a while, you develop intuition and you learn what to look for,” he said.
Scott has up to 60 days to appoint one of the nominees, or he has the option to request additional recommendations from the commission.