Sunday, October 21, 2018

Voting for Collier County Judge

Collier voters have the opportunity to vote for one of two candidates for County Judge in the upcoming election: Blake Adams or Jim Moon.

In this post, I’ll explain what a county judge does, share what I learned about the candidates through online research, in meetings with both candidates, and from conversations with community leaders and members of the legal community, and then say how I will vote.

What does a county judge do?

The Florida court system has four levels: the Florida Supreme Court, District courts of Appeal, Circuit Courts, and County Courts. For more, see The Florida Courts website

County courts are sometimes referred to as "the people's courts" because a large part of their work involves voluminous citizen disputes, such as traffic offenses, less serious criminal matters (misdemeanors), and relatively small monetary disputes.

County judges hear criminal misdemeanors (crimes that have possible sentences of less than one year in jail) and civil cases where the amount in dispute is $15,000 or less. They:
  • preside over trials and hearings,
  • make decisions on the acceptability of testimony and evidence in court,
  • ensure that jurors understand the law, and
  • when a jury is not required, decide the case based on applicable law and the judge’s knowledge of the law.

Each of Florida’s 67 counties has a county court. The number of judges in each county court varies with the population and caseload of the county. Collier has six. For purposes of the ballot, each position is referred to as a County Judge Group numbered between 1 and 6. A judge’s term of office is six years.

Collier County judges

In 2018, three of Collier County’s six judgeships were up for election: Groups 1, 2 and 6. The candidates for the Group 1 (incumbent Michael Brown) and Group 6 (Tamara Lynne Nicola) seats were unopposed, so they were automatically elected.

Five candidates ran for the Group 2 seat in the August primary. Blake Adams and Jim Moon were the top two vote-getters, receiving 25 percent and 24 percent of the votes, respectively. So they are facing off in the general election.

How can we make informed decisions?

Voters are limited in what they can learn because judicial candidates are prohibited from making making predictions and promises about issues that could arise once they are on the court. That’s because their job is to make impartial decisions that relate to the law on the cases before them.

To be eligible for the office of county judge, a person must have earned a law degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association and be a member of The Florida Bar for at least five years. S/he must also live in the geographic area s/he will serve when they take office, in our case, Collier County.

In response to the question “What makes someone a ‘good judge’?”, the Florida Bar Association’s Guide for Florida Voters says:

Judges must be impartial, fair and understand the law. All judges may deal with cases that are either civil or criminal in nature. Knowledge in one particular area is not more important than the other. Judges should be selected based on their legal abilities, temperament and commitment to follow the law and decide cases consistent with a judge’s duty to uphold the law regardless of his or her personal view.

Blake Adams

Adams
Blake Adams (blakeadamsforjudge.com) is Collier County Deputy Chief in the Law Offices of Kathleen A. Smith, Public Defender 20th Judicial Circuit. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2010; Bar profile here. He has a BA from William Jewell College, a private college in Liberty, Mo., and an MBA and JD from the University of Tulsa. During law school, he studied in Dublin, Ireland, for two summers and earned a comparative and international law certificate.

Prior to earning the latter two degrees, Adams spent ten years in retail banking, investments and mortgages, and owned and managed rental properties. According to his website, this experience “provides him with an immense understanding of issues that could come before him as a county court judge, including but not limited to contract, property, monetary, and account disputes,” as well as “practical experience to … preside over landlord-tenant cases.”

Adams began his career as an attorney with Florida’s 20th Judicial Circuit, first as a Staff Attorney (a.k.a trial court law clerk), working with 30 different circuit judges, writing more than 900 proposed court orders, appellate opinions, and legal memoranda, and teaching law student interns how to improve their legal research and writing skills, how to interact with other attorneys and judges, and practical legal concepts not taught in the traditional law school setting.

Since 2014, as an attorney for the Law Offices of Kathleen A. Smith, Public Defender, he has gained courtroom and trial experience, and in 2017, he was promoted to Deputy Chief of the Collier County Office. In that role, he supervises and trains attorneys practicing in county court, juvenile court, and the law student interns. He also represents people in felony circuit court and is the lead defense attorney for the Rapid Response Squad—a group consisting of members from the State Attorney's Office, Collier County Sheriff's Office, David Lawrence Center, and other organizations that attempts to identify frequently incarcerated individuals with severe mental illnesses and obtain treatment for them in order to stop recidivism and make the community safer.

His volunteer activities have included Habitat for Humanity of Collier County; volunteer judge for Collier County Teen Court; courthouse panelist for Youth Leadership Collier; and volunteer for Ave Maria School of Law mock trials. He currently serves on the Criminal Justice Academic Advisory Board of Lely High School.

Jim Moon

Moon
James Moon (moonforjudge.com) practices law in the areas of civil, business, and commercial litigation as a partner in the Fort Myers and New York offices of Quintairos Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A., “the largest minority and women owned law firm in the country.” He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1999; Bar profile here, Disclosure Statement here. According to his professional bio, he has a BS from Eastern Michigan University, an MA (with honors) from Saginaw Valley State University, in Saginaw, Michigan, and a JD from Thomas M. Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University. He also has a ML (cum laude) in international taxation and financial services from Saint Thomas University School of Law in Miami Gardens, FL, and a Graduate Certificate in Anti-Money Laundering, and is a Supreme Court certified mediator.

Moon’s early career in the law was as a certified intern in the Ingram County, MI, Prosecutor’s Office and then for two years with the Florida State Attorney’s Office. In 1998, he went into private practice, first with others, then on his own, until in 2006, he joined the firm that, after a number of mergers, is now Quintairos Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A

He estimates that his practice has been about 80 percent civil litigation, 10 percent probate litigation and 10 percent criminal matters, but says that as his practice grew, he shifted from predominantly criminal work to handling a greater percentage of civil work. Today his practice areas include banking, civil trial, commercial litigation, insurance, and litigation/trial advocacy/advocacy.

His community activities have included: City of Naples Code Board; Coll ier County Tax Abatement Board; Junior Achievement volunteer lecturer; Volunteer Judge Ave Maria Law School and Collier County High School Moot Court Programs; FGCU and Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentor; Humane Society; Drug Free Collier; and NAMI. He served in the U.S. Army National Guard as an infantryman during the first Gulf War.

Comparing experience

Knowledge of the law and legal experience are obviously important considerations in evaluating the two candidates. Adams has been a member of the Florida Bar for 8 years; Moon for 20 years. But as one person I spoke with said, there are good and bad lawyers, and bad lawyers don’t get better by being a lawyer longer. (This was not a judgment about either candidate, but rather pointing out that the candidate with more years of experience isn't necessarily the better candidate.)  The type of experience they’ve had differs as well. But as noted in the Florida Bar Guide, “Knowledge in one particular area is not more important than the other.”

So I turned to the candidates’ endorsements for indications of legal abilities, temperament, fairness, impartiality and knowledge of the law.

Endorsements

Adams’ Endorsements page lists endorsements by three elected officials.

  • Steve Russell, State Attorney — 20th Judicial Circuit, wrote, “His honesty, integrity and respect for those involved with the courts, combined with his experience and demeanor, are the reasons why I endorse Blake for Collier County Judge.”
  • Bill Barnett, Mayor - City of Naples, wrote, “I know that Blake cares deeply about our community, and it’s his dedication to fairness, combined with his integrity and experience in handling many cases in our local courts, that have earned my endorsement of Blake Adams for Collier County Judge.”
  • Kathy Smith, Public Defender—20th Judicial Circuit is listed on the website but without a comment.

For more on Adams’ endorsements, click here.

Moon’s website lists endorsements by three elected Naples City Council members: Linda Penniman, Reg Buxton and Terry Hutchison, but does not include any quotes from them.

It should be noted that in 2016, Moon ran unsuccessfully for one of three seats on the Naples City Council, coming in fourth among six candidates behind Ellen Siegel, Buxton and Hutchison. In 2018, Moon had initially filed to run as one of five candidates (including Penniman and Hutchison) for three City Council seats on the ballot; he subsequently withdrew to seek this judgeship.

For more on Moon’s endorsements, click here.

How I will vote

I enjoyed and learned a lot from my meetings with each candidate. Both spoke of their commitment to public service and wanting to give back to the community. Both would bring different but valuable experiences and insights to the position, and I commend both for their willingness to serve.

I like Adams’ passion for teaching, mentoring and helping younger attorneys, his experience outside the legal profession in the financial sector and managing rental properties, and his involvement with the Rapid Response Squad, about which I have heard great things. Based on those qualities and experiences, I will vote for Blake Adams for County Judge.