St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies


AWAITING MERIT RETENTION: Appointed by the governor, five judges face no opponents, just voter approval on whether they'll serve another six-year term.

By JIM ROSS, Times Staff Writer
Published October 26, 2004

In Florida, the governor appoints appellate court judges. Those judges stand for merit retention every six years. They have no opponents - voters either grant them another six-year term or remove them from office.

If a judge is removed (this has never happened in the state's merit retention system) the governor would appoint a replacement after receiving recommendations from a judicial nominating commission.

This year, in the general election, five judges from the 5th District Court of Appeal will stand for merit retention. The court, based in Daytona Beach, hears appeals from circuit courts within the following counties: Citrus, Hernando, Brevard, Flagler, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter and Volusia.

Voters in those counties will decide whether Jacqueline R. Griffin, David A. Monaco, Earle W. Peterson Jr., Winifred J. Sharp and Vincent G. Torpy Jr. will receive new terms. Their races, like all other judicial elections, are nonpartisan.

The judges typically serve on three-member panels to decide cases, although sometimes the entire court will rule on a matter.

Griffin, 57, earned her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her law degree from the University of Florida. She has been on the court since 1990.

Peterson, 68, also has been on the court since 1990. He earned his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his law degree from UF.

Griffin and Peterson were on the three-judge panel that upheld Circuit Judge Jack Springstead's ruling in the Halls River Retreat case. Springstead had rejected the Citrus County Commission's decision to allow development of the controversial time-share condominium complex in Homosassa.

Sharp, 68, earned her undergraduate degree from Vassar College and her law degree from the University of Virginia. She has served on the court since 1979.

During one recent case, Sharp wrote forcefully in support of allowing DNA testing in cases where the wrong person might have been convicted. Sometimes, such post-conviction testing has been barred on procedural grounds.

In 1999, Sharp was on the appellate panel that ordered a new trial for a man who had been accused of shooting another man while trying to break up a bar fight in Citrus County.

The panel said then-Circuit Judge Michael Blackstone went too far in questioning witnesses during the man's 1997 trial, at which he was found guilty. The panel said the judge's conduct was too potentially prejudicial against the defendant.

Monaco and Torpy are relative newcomers, having started their service in January 2003. Gov. Jeb Bush appointed them to replace judges Charles M. Harris and Warren H. Cobb, who retired.

Moncao, 61, was a judge in the 7th Judicial Circuit (St. Johns, Volusia, Flagler and Putnam counties) before being appointed to the appellate court. He earned his undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University and his law degree from UF.

Torpy, 48, was a judge in the 18th Judicial Circuit (Brevard and Seminole counties) before being appointed to the court. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Central Florida in 1981 and his law degree from Florida State.

Lawyers who participated in a Florida Bar poll overwhelmingly supported retention of the five judges.

The Bar mailed secret ballots to all lawyers who reside and practice in Florida. The number of respondents who offered an opinion about these five judges ranged from 1,295 (for Sharp) to 713 (for Torpy.)

For Griffin, 88 percent of the respondents recommended retention. It was 85 percent for Moncao, 84 percent for Peterson, 85 percent for Sharp and 82 percent for Torpy.


Judges on the 5th District Court of Appeal hear appeals from the circuit courts in 13 Central Florida counties, including Citrus and Hernando. Judges serve six-year terms and are paid a $143,363 annual salary.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.