Gov. Scott or DeSantis will appoint the new county judge.
After interviewing 14 applicants Monday, the 4th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission submitted to Gov. Rick Scott six candidates for appointment to the Duval County Court.
A vacancy in the court was created when County Judge Lester Bass was appointed to replace Circuit Judge Robert Foster, who resigned his seat on the bench before his term was scheduled to expire in January.
Under state law, the governor has 60 days after nominees are submitted to make the appointment.
Scott may appoint one of the nominees on or before Jan. 8, or the appointment could be made by incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis if Scott does not make the appointment before he leaves office.
Janet Abel is circuit director of the Office of Regional Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel. It’s a state agency that functions as a law firm for indigent people entitled to counsel, primarily in criminal and dependency matters.
She’s familiar with the courtroom environment, appearing in court about four times a week and having represented clients in more than 4,700 nonjury trials.
Abel, 42, said in her interview that her experience in court has taught her that a judge must be neutral and interpret the law, but the system is not perfect.
“I’ve won some cases that I shouldn’t have, and I’ve lost some cases I should have won,” she said.
Abel graduated from the University of Dayton School of Law and was admitted to The Florida Bar in 2001. She began her career as an assistant public defender in Jacksonville.
Brooke Brady, 41, is a magistrate in the 4th Judicial Circuit who hears civil, mental health, family law and juvenile delinquency cases.
In her 18 months in a quasi-judicial role, she said she’s learned that “it’s important to make sure everyone feels like they’ve had their day in court and have been heard” and “my job is to follow the law, whether I like it or not.”
Brady was a founding partner in the implementation of Girls Court in Duval County, an alternative justice program for female juvenile first offenders.
Brady graduated from Stetson University College of Law and was admitted to The Florida Bar in 2001.
Michael Fackler is a shareholder at Milam Howard Nicandri Gillam & Renner. He practices commercial litigation specializing in condominium and homeowners associations with construction defect issues.
Fackler, 46, began his law career in 2002 as a clerk for U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger. He then was an associate attorney at the McGuire Woods firm from 2004 to 2007, when he joined Milam Howard as an associate. He became a shareholder there in 2016.
During his interview, Fackler was asked about his lack of experience in the courtroom, since he stated in his application that he hasn’t had to represent a client in a jury trial.
“Having been a law clerk, I’ve seen it from the judge’s perspective. Having trial experience and presiding over a trial are two different things,” he said.
He graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law and was admitted to The Florida Bar in 2002.
Rhonda Peoples-Waters, 44, is president and owner of Rhonda Peoples-Waters PA, where she specializes in criminal defense, family law, personal injury and probate law.
Peoples-Waters was an assistant public defender and division chief in the 4th Circuit after graduating from law school, then went into private practice with a law firm and in 2008 established her sole practice.
She also worked for the state from 2010 to 2011 as the Jacksonville coordinator for the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative.
Peoples-Waters said that in the past year, she has developed more of her civil law practice and her practice covering several areas of law qualifies her for appointment to the bench.
“County court is where most of our community has interaction with the court,” she said.
Erin Perry, 37, is an assistant state attorney and division chief in the 4th Circuit.
A career prosecutor, Perry’s first assignment was in county court, then she was transferred to circuit court. Her current assignment is division chief and she prosecutes homicides and other major crimes.
Perry said in her interview that while her legal experience is limited to criminal prosecution, she has in the past year completed 16 hours of civil practice certification study.
Commission Chair Patrick Kilbane commented on Perry’s background check conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
He described it as “spotless, not even a moving violation.”
Perry graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law and was admitted to The Florida Bar in 2007.
Julie Taylor, 47, is court counsel for the 4th Judicial Circuit.
She assists the chief judge, circuit judges and county judges with the administration of court functions such as researching and writing administrative orders, advising the court on third-party contract and human resources matters and public records requests.
Taylor said in her interview that based on her experience in the judicial system, administration is most important.
“The biggest responsibility in county court is to manage the calendar and move cases along,” she said.
Taylor graduated from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. She was admitted to The Florida Bar in 1996.