Thursday, July 31, 2014

Meet the Candidates: 20th Circuit Court (Part 2)

Earlier this week I wrote about the candidates for Circuit Judge from Group 3. In this post, I’ll look at the candidates from Group 16: Amy Hawthorne and Steven S. Leskovich.

Group 16: Amy Hawthorne
Amy Hawthorne

Amy Hawthorne is currently serving as a Circuit Court Judge for Charlotte, Collier, Hendry, Glades and Lee Counties. She was appointed to the bench by Governor Rick Scott in 2012. Her campaign slogan is “Keep Judge Amy Hawthorne for Circuit Judge.”

Her campaign website, Facebook and Twitter presence make appropriate use of social media. I was unable to find a presence on LinkedIn.

  • JD – University of Florida College of Law (1993 cum laude)
  • BS – Speech Communications / Columbus State University (date unspecified)                                                                                   
Professional Experience
  • 20th Circuit Court / Judge (2012-present)
  • Sole Practitioner / Partner (1998-2012) – criminal and family law
  • Twentieth Circuit Court / General Civil Magistrate (2010-2011)
  • City of Cape Coral / Alternate Special Master (2003-2005)
  • Office of the Public Defender / Assistant Public Defender (1993-1997)
  • Bill Powell P.A. / Associate Attorney (1993)
  • Florida Supreme Court Certified mediator for family, circuit civil and county court cases  (years unspecified)

  • Florida Southwestern State College / Adjunct Professor – Torts and Family Law (prior to 2012)

  • Florida Bar (member)
  • Charlotte County Bar Association (member)
  • Lee County Bar Association (member)
  • Florida Bar Grievance Committee (former member)
  • Florida Bar Family Law Section (former member)
  • Florida Rural Legal Service (former Board member)
  • Florida Equal Justice Center (former Board member)
  • United Way Allocations Committee (former member)
  • Fort Myers Rotary Club (member)

Hawthorne raised $29,225 through 176 monetary contributions, $100,441 through personal loans and $2,379 through 12 in-kind contributions, and spent $60,765 through 7/18/14.  The largest single contribution was for $1,000; six attorneys and one homemaker contributed $1,000 each.

Other of note: The majority of contributors are attorneys. There are also judges, local business people, a few retirees, a university professor, Director of the SWFLA Police Academy, and the Lee County Tax Collector.

Hawthorne’s website lists the members of Amy’s Campaign Committee, “comprised of local attorneys and community leaders that work together towards the goal of keeping Amy on the bench of the 20th Judicial Circuit Court. Of note are Gary Aubuchon, Former State Representative; 
Joseph P. D'Alessandro, Esq. Former State Attorney, 20th Judicial Circuit; Larry Hart, Lee County Tax Collector; Randall P. Henderson, Jr., Mayor, City of Fort Myers; Marni Sawicki, Mayor, City of Cape Coral; Mike Scott, Sheriff, Lee County; 
Steve Whidden, Sheriff, Hendry County; 
Stuart Whiddon, Sheriff, Glades County.
Her campaign post card, mailed to my home, says, “The role of judges in the court system is not to impose their own personal views and agendas – it is to fairly interpret the law the way that it was written. As your Circuit Judge, I hold myself to that standard every day.”
A Google search turned up an article in the Fort Myers News-Press about he judicial races. From the article:
While circuit judge races in other parts of Florida have become spirited contests, they've also been traditionally lower-profile in Southwest Florida, with few attorneys willing to challenge a sitting judge whose performance has stayed unscathed. Still, one attorney, Steven Leskovich, filed to run against incumbent Judge Amy Hawthorne. Hawthorne was chosen by Gov. Rick Scott from a pool of applicants to fill a vacancy a couple of years ago, and faces her first election.
Group 16: Steven S. Leskovich
Steven S. Leskovich
Steven S. Leskovich is Managing Partner of Galasso & Leskovich, LLC, trial lawyers specializing in criminal defense and family law, in Punta Gorda. His campaign slogan is “The Clear Choice for Judge.”

His campaign website and Facebook Page make appropriate use of social media. His LinkedIn presence is near-nonexistent. I was unable to find a Twitter feed.

Educational Background (dates not disclosed unless noted)
  • JD / Thomas M. Cooley Law School (MI)
  • BBA - Economics / Kent State University (OH)

  • Galasso & Leskovich, LLC / Managing Partner (2002-present)
  • 20th Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office, Lee County / Assistant Public Defender (undisclosed – 2002)

  • Florida State Bar (member)
  • Charlotte County Bar Association (member)
  • Collier County Bar Association (member)    
  • Lee County Bar Association (member)        
  • Southwest Florida Safety Council (Board member)        
  • Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce (member)       
  • Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce (member)    
  • American Cancer Society (volunteer)
  • Boys/Girls Club (volunteer)

Leskovich raised $31,190 through 59 monetary contributions, $30,000 in one personal loan and $1,368 through 10 in-kind contributions, and spent $26,935 through 7/18/14. The largest single contribution was for $1,000, contributed by 22 donors, including 14 attorneys and law firms.

Other of note: The majority of contributors are attorneys. There are also bail bondsmen, local business people, a few homemakers and retirees, a student nurse and a textbook salesman.

A campaign postcard delivered to my home listed “Steven’s Guiding Judicial Principles: Always be Fair and Impartial; Treat all Litigants with Courtesy and Respect; Bring Integrity and Strong Ethics to the Bench; Uphold the Laws of the Land Fairly and Honestly.”

A Google search turned up the previously-mentioned News-Press article, with the following information about Leskovich:
Leskovich said there was "no particular reason" that led him to file to run against her, but he also mentioned that she was first chosen through the appointment process…. 
Leskovich's filing papers list a couple of home addresses in and outside the circuit, but he said he now lives in Punta Gorda and also owns a home in Sarasota County. He also filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009 and business bankruptcy about a year ago, but said those issues have been resolved. 
The bankruptcies were the effect of a former partner who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the business, and caused additional problems through identity theft, Leskovich said. Filing for bankruptcy seemed the best way to keep the practice going and pay employees, he said, and now he has first-hand experience in dealing with those kinds of problems.
I am struck by the similarity in backgrounds between the two candidates. Both received undergraduate degrees in a liberal arts field. Both served early in their careers as assistant public defenders, then went on to private practice specializing in criminal and family law. Neither have had significant community involvement. For both, most campaign contributions came from attorneys and law firms.

While both raised about $30,000, Hawthorne had 156 donations while Leskovich had 59. Also, Hawthorne received seven $1,000-contributions; Leskovich had 22. Hawthorne loaned her campaign significantly more than Leskovich ($100,441 vs $30,000). All that said, I’m not sure what it tells us about which would be a better judge.

The fact that Hawthorne has been a sitting judge for two years, having been appointed to fill a vacancy by Governor Scott, is one significant difference between the candidates. Another is Leskovich’s past bankruptcies.

Based on this information, I will vote for Amy Hawthorne for Circuit Judge for Group 16.  If you have additional information about either candidate, I’d be most interested in hearing it.

In my next post, I’ll review the candidates for County Judge.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Meet the Candidates: 20th Circuit Court (Part 1)

As I wrote yesterday, Collier County voters have the opportunity to vote for one of two candidates in each of two Circuit Judge elections: Group 3 and Group 16.

Group 3: Robert Branning

Robert Branning
Robert Branning is a partner with Rehak & Branning, LLC, a Fort Myers law firm. His campaign slogan is “Respect and Justice for All.”

His campaign website, Facebook Page, Twitter feed @branning4judge and LinkedIn presence make appropriate use of social media.

  • JD - Law / Mississippi College School of Law (1996)
  • BA - Law / Florida State University (1992)                                                                                                                     
  • Rehak & Branning, LLC / Partner (2005-present) – According to Branning’s LinkedIn page, Rehak & Branning is “A law firm specializing in criminal defense; most notably DUI & traffic offenses, sex offenses, violent crimes, drug/alcohol offenses and property crimes.”
  • Office of the State Attorney, 20th Judicial Circuit, Florida / Assistant State Attorney (2000-2003)
  • Admitted in the Florida Bar and the US Middle District of Florida for federal cases.
  • Southwest Florida College / Adjust Professor – law and ethics courses (dates unspecified)
  • Southwest Florida Institute for Public Safety / former instructor – concentration on law enforcement trainees (dates unspecified)
  • Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Lee County Chapter (past president and active member)
  • Fort Myers Rotary Club (member)
  • Community charitable organizations working to eliminate hunger and domestic violence, including the Harry Chapin Food Bank, Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Law Enforcement Memorial Fund
  • Participates in community activities that provide awareness of local need, including Meals for Hope, Hunger Walk, PACE Center for Girls Mentor session
Branning raised $69,880 in monetary contributions and $1,704 in in-kind contributions, and spent $41,904 through 7/15/14. His largest contributions to-date:
  • $50,000 – Personal loan to the campaign, on 1/27/14
  • $1,000 - Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner (law firm), Fort Myers, on 6/3/14
  • $1,000 – Scot Goldberg (attorney), Cape Coral, on 2/21/14
  • $1,000 – Goldberg Racila D’Allessandra & Noone, LLC (law firm), Fort Myers, on 2/21/14
  • $1,000 – Michael Noone (attorney), Fort Myers, on 2/21/14
Other contributions of note:
  • $500 each from 13 additional attorneys and law offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral or Bonita Springs; First Bay Partnership (court reporting), Fort Myers; and Mike Scott (Sheriff), Fort Myers
  • 48 additional contributions between $100 and $300, mostly from attorneys, law firms and other professionals in the Fort Myers area.
Branning’s website lists many endorsements, including Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott (R), Glades County Sheriff Stuart Whiddon (D), and Naples Mayor John Sorey II (R).

His campaign post card, mailed to my home, says, “Recently, the 20th Circuit’s Judicial Nominating Commission supported Robert as one of a select few qualified applicants for appointment by the Governor.”

A Google search turned up no red flags.

Group 3: Mary Evans

Mary Evans
Mary Evans, according to her campaign website, “is a family woman with a successful law practice in the broad field of family law [who] is married and is the proud mother of a 12 year old daughter.” Her campaign slogan is “Fair, Impartial, Thoughtful.”

Her campaign website, Facebook Page, Twitter feed @evans4judge and LinkedIn presence make appropriate use of social media.

Educational Background (years not disclosed unless noted0
  • Doctor of Jurisprudence/Juris Doctor / Stetson University College of Law
  • B.A. Summa Cum Laude / Florida Gulf Coast University
  • A.A. Summa Cum Laude / Edison State College

  • Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator
  • Law Office of Mary C. Evans, P.A. / Partner (2011-present) – “Provides professional Divorce and Family Law legal Services in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, Lee, County, Collier County Florida and the Surrounding Southwest Florida Areas.”
  • “Two prominent Lee County law firms … that practice family law exclusively” (2004-2011)
  • Admitted to the Florida Bar (2003)
  • Former small business owner
  • Licensed real estate broker
Affiliations (partial listing)
  • Lee County Bar Association (member 2010-present; currently President)
  • The Florida Bar Continuing Legal Education Committee (member)
  • Pro-Bono Attorney – Florida Guardian ad Litem
  • Pro Bono Service with the Sarasota County Public Defender’s Office
  • Lee County Children’s Home Board of Visitors
  • Lee County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee
  • Volunteer Administrative Assistant – All Saints Ukrainian Catholic Church
  • Volunteer – Quality Life Center Free Legal Clinic
  • PACE Center for Girls of Lee County
  • Florida Bar Speakers Bureau – Merit Retention
  • Arts for Act (Abuse Counseling Treatment Center)
Campaign Finance
Evans raised $53,210 in monetary contributions and no in-kind contributions, and spent $36,531 through 7/18/14. Her largest contributions to-date:
  • $42,000 – Personal loans to the campaign, on 4/25 and 5/29/14
  • $1,000 - Absolute Law, PA (attorney), Fort Myers, on 4/25/14
  • $1,000 - Michael E. Chionopoulos (attorney), Fort Myers, on 4/25/14
  • $1,000 – Tina Crumpacker (life coach), Fort Myers, on 7/2/14
Other contributions of note:
  • $500 each from five attorneys, one CPA, and two real estate developers in Fort Myers and one Bonita Springs attorney.
  • 22 additional contributions between $100 and $250, from attorneys, business owners, in the Fort Myers area. 
Evans’ website lists many endorsements from a diverse groups of community members, including City of Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson (R), Lee County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Angelo Vaughn, and USPS Mail Carrier Gaye Breautt.

A Google search turned up no red flags.


Both candidates appear, from what’s available online, to be appropriately qualified, and I found no red flags in a Google search.

However there is a distinct difference in the sources of campaign contributions between the two candidates. Brannings’ are primarily from attorneys and law firms, with fewer smaller contributions than Evans'. I’m concerned about the significance of Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott’s endorsement and $500 contribution to Branning. Scott is a politician whose politics I don’t share.  Evans’ contributions come from more diverse sources.

Evans campaign flyer, “Information for Voters: Mary Evans for Judge,” says, in the context of the State of Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct,
Mary has consistently refrained from discussing any partisan politics or party affiliation whether it be hers or that of another candidate or member of the judiciary and she has prohibited her staff and volunteers from discussing same. Mary has not attended any partisan political activities and has prohibited her supporters from campaigning at any partisan political gatherings. Mary’s financial support has not come primarily from a single occupation narrow economic group but from a broad spectrum of our socio-economic constituency. Partisan politics or special interest groups and their potential influence have no place in judicial campaigns or on the bench and there are no degrees to Integrity! Mary Evans sincerely pledges to uphold the Integrity, Independence and Impartiality of the Judiciary and uphold the Constitution and enforce the Law.
I like that. I also like what Evans’ various community affiliations say about her and her priorities..

I will vote for Mary Evans for Circuit Judge for Group 3.


In my next post, I’ll review the candidates for Circuit Judge for Group 16.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Voting for Judges: Where to Begin?

Soon after I published my endorsements for the School Board elections, I began to receive requests for advice about which judges to vote for. (I also received lots of emails of appreciation for the School Board analysis, which was wonderful.)

As one who is passionate about being an informed voter, it is great to know so many people are seeking information. But it’s also disconcerting. Why are we at such a loss when it comes to the judicial candidates? Why isn’t the news media helping us with these decisions? These questions may be the subject of another post, but for now, let’s understand what we are being asked to vote for.

Courtesy of
Article V of the Florida Constitution establishes a four-tiered judicial system. The top two tiers are appellate courts that review the decisions of the courts below them. The third and fourth tiers are the trial courts.

Appellate courts
Appellate courts review and affirm, reverse, modify or send back with further instructions the judgments or decisions of a lower court. The Florida Supreme Court (Tier 1) and five District Courts of Appeal (Tier 2) are Florida’s appellate courts.

Collier County is part of the Second Appellate District.

Appellate court judges are appointed by the governor. They serve six-year terms, and stand for “merit retention” election at the end of each term. Voters vote “yes” or “no,” to retain the judge or not, but do not have the opportunity to choose between alternatives. If the majority of voters votes “no,” the judge is replaced by another gubernatorial appointee.

Trial courts
Circuit Courts (Tier 3) handle most criminal and civil cases. Cases are usually heard before a jury. Circuit Courts also hear appeals from county court cases. There are 20 Circuit Courts in Florida.

Collier County is one of five counties in the 20th Circuit. All voters in a circuit can cast votes for each race regardless of where the judge is based.

County Courts (Tier 4)(aka "the people's courts") handle citizen disputes such as traffic offenses, less serious criminal matters (misdemeanors), and relatively small monetary disputes.  Each of Florida’s 67 counties has its own County Court. Cases are usually not heard before a jury.

Circuit and County Court judges stand for election in nonpartisan races every six years.

Decisions for Collier voters: District Court of Appeals
In November, we will have the opportunity to vote for or against three incumbent judges in merit retention elections. They are Chris W. Altenbernd, Morris Silberman and Daniel H. Sleet. I’ll plan to look into their backgrounds at a later date.

Decisions for Collier Voters: 20th Circuit Court of Appeal
We have the opportunity to vote for one of two candidates in two separate races in the August primary:
  • Circuit Judge, Group 3: Robert Branning or Mary Evans
  • Circuit Judge, Group 16: Amy Hawthorn (incumbent) or Steven S. Leskovich

Decisions for Collier Voters: County Judge
We have the opportunity to vote for one of two candidates:
  • Sal Bazaz or Rob Crown

In the coming days, I will research each of these candidates online, and share what I learn.

Thanks again for your interest! If you have any questions, comments, corrections or suggestions, please let me know.

Note: Image updated 02/25/19.