Attorneys Pamela Barger and Chris Brown are running for Collier County Judge in the August election.
All registered voters in Collier County, regardless of party affiliation, may vote in this nonpartisan election. The candidate that receives the majority of the votes will be declared the winner.
How should you decide who to vote for? First, consider my post Six Things to Consider When Evaluating Candidates. Then, ask yourself: which of these two people would I want to decide MY case in court?
In this post, I will address the Florida court system, the qualifications to run for judge, and what a county judge does. Then I will share what I learned about the candidates through online research and from their responses to my Candidate Questionnaire.
The Florida Court System
The Florida court system is currently comprised of the Supreme Court, five district courts of appeal, 20 circuit courts, and 67 county courts. Beginning January 1, 2023, a sixth district court of appeal will be added to the system. Each layer of the Florida judicial system has a distinct role in providing justice across the state. For more, see The Florida Courts website.
A judge’s term of office is six years. There are no term limits, but there is a mandatory retirement age of 75.
The number of judges in each county court varies with the population and caseload of the county. Collier has six county judges: Blake Adams, Michael Brown, Robert Crown, Janeice Martin, Tamara Lynne Nicola, and Michael Provost. Judge Provost has chosen not to run for reelection, creating an open seat. For more on the Collier County judges, click here.
Who Can Be a County Judge?
To be eligible to run for county judge, a person must:
- have earned a law degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association,
- live in the geographic area they will serve when they take office and
- have been a member of The Florida Bar for five years.
What Does a County Judge Do?
The county courts are sometimes referred to as “the people’s courts,” because a large portion of their work involves a wide assortment of citizen disputes, including traffic offenses, less serious criminal matters (misdemeanors), and relatively small monetary disputes.
County judges hear criminal misdemeanors (crimes that have possible sentences of up to one year in jail) and civil cases in which the amount in dispute is $30,000 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.
How Can We Make Informed Decisions?
Voters are limited in what they can learn because judicial candidates are prohibited from 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 based on the law as it relates to the cases before them.
What makes someone a ‘good judge’? According to the Florida Bar Association:
Judges must be impartial and 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.Florida Bar Association, Guide for Florida Voters
The Florida Bar offers judicial candidates the opportunity to provide information about themselves and their backgrounds to the public in preparation for an election. Pamela Barger completed the Bar’s voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement (“SDS”); Chris Brown did not. (See Florida Bar County Judge Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statements.)
The candidates’ responses to these questions I asked them provide insight into their professional experiences and understanding of the role of a judge:
- What forms of voluntary professional and community service have you been involved with in Collier County in the past? Currently?
- What has been your greatest accomplishment in your legal career?
- Which of the various types of matters that would come before you as a County Judge would present the least challenge for you? Why?
- Which of the various types of matters that would come before you as a County Judge would present the greatest challenge for you? Why?
- Who are your judicial role models? Why?
- What are the pros and cons of serving as a judge as compared to practicing law?
- Why should voters support you rather than your opponent?
I encourage you to read their responses to these questions here:
Pamela Barger, 45, has been a Collier County resident for over 35 years. She and her husband live in Golden Gate Estates and have three young children.
Barger earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Florida (2000) and a J.D. from St. Thomas University School of Law (2006).
In the Community
Barger says she worked “side by side with the Circuit and County judges in Collier County” for the past 15 years. Specifically, she served as a Senior Staff Attorney for thirteen years, and in a quasi-judicial role as a General Magistrate in Collier County for the last two years, presiding over matters in the Circuit Civil division.
As a result of her “unique experience,” she says, “I have come to look at cases from a balanced, unbiased, impartial viewpoint.”
According to her SDS:
- As a Senior Staff Attorney, her areas of practice were Criminal Law (50%), Circuit Civil Law (35%), Probate Law (10%), and Family Law (5%).
- As a General Magistrate, her areas of practice were Circuit Civil (80%), Mental Health (10%), and Probate and Guardianship (10%).
- She has participated in more than 100 jury trials and more than 100 bench trials.
“My judicial philosophy is very simple,” Barger said. “I’m going to listen to people, I’m going to treat people fairly, and I’m going to treat people with respect.” (Video: Meet Pamela Barger at 1:20)
She says she has modeled her judicial philosophy after the best qualities of the many circuit court and county court judges she has worked with over the years. She admires Judge Lauren Brodie’s “exceptional attention to detail that is required for dealing with complex civil cases.” She notes that Judges Joseph Foster and Janeice Martin have “superb courtroom demeanors that are calm and respectful of the parties while continuing to command the respect of the people in their court.” She says Judge Christine Greider “required the parties [to her proceedings] to have a clean record so that on appellate review there are no questions or misunderstandings.” And she observed that Judge Vince Murphy “treated everyone in his courtroom with respect and listened so that the parties had full and fair hearings.” (Candidate Questionnaire)
“The most important qualities I have observed in the judges that I worked with,” she says, “are patience, wisdom, and courage.”
Barger is a member of the American Bar Association and the Florida Bar and actively participates as a member of the Collier County Bar Association, Collier County Women’s Bar Association, and the Michael R.N. McDonnell Inns of Court. She also serves as a volunteer judge for the Collier County High School Mock Trial competition. (SDS)
Barger says her previous experience “allowed me to develop a judicial mindset to make effective judicial decisions based upon my vast knowledge of the law and rules of procedure and evidence. A good judge must apply and interpret the law fairly, have patience, wisdom and courage, all qualities that I possess. I have spent my entire legal career in public service. You will not find another candidate with the broad range of experience, insight, and integrity that I possess.” (SDS)
- Website; Online Bio
- Facebook — Pamela Barger for Collier County Judge Group 3
- LinkedIn — Pamela Shannon Barger
- Florida Bar Member Profile
- Voter Focus Candidate Statement
Chris Brown, 49, moved to Naples in 1983. He and his wife have young three children who are in the Collier County School System.
Brown earned a B.A. with honors from the University of Florida (1995) and a law degree from the University of Florida College of Law (1999). (website)
In the Community
Brown and his wife spend their free time attending and participating in sports and other events involving their children. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus and a lifetime member of the NRA. (website)
Brown began his legal career working as “in-house” counsel for a consulting firm. In 2002 he began practicing courtroom law in Florida’s 20th Judicial Circuit as an Assistant Public Defender. In 2004, he entered private practice and in 2006 became a partner in the criminal defense and person injury law firm Brown, Suarez, Rios & Weinberg, P.A., where he still practices.
Brown has tried over 150 civil and criminal cases and handled dozens of appeals in Florida’s state and federal courts. Many have been high-profile cases, including several “stand your ground” cases in which his client was acquitted based on the lawful use of self-defense. (website)
Brown says a judge must stand by “a core set of principles and obligations:”
- Everyone who comes before the Court should be treated with equal respect and dignity…
- Judges are not there to rule based on personal feelings or preconceived notions about a case…
- Judges must always be humble and patient…
- Judges are not elected to make laws. A judge’s duty is to uphold the U.S. and Florida constitutions and follow the laws written by our Legislature….
Asked about his judicial role models, he named several. On a national level, he cited “the late, great Antonin Scalia” and Justice Clarence Thomas. On a local level, he said that as a young lawyer, he admired Judges Ed Volz, Bill Nelson, and the late Jack Schooner. In terms of current judges, he said, “There are too many to name without leaving out someone important.” But he specifically mentioned Frank Porter, Christine Greider, Bruce Kyle, Alane Laboda, Maria Gonzalez, James Shenko, Margaret Steinbeck, and both Judge Thompsons, Ramiro Manalich, Joseph Foster, and Michael Provost. (Candidate Questionnaire)
Brown is a member of the Florida Bar, the Charlotte County Bar Association, and a former three-term member of the Calusa Chapter of the American Inns of Court. He is currently a member of the Thomas Biggs Chapter of the Inns in Collier County. He is also a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and of the Federalist Society.
“Voters should pick me because of proven experience that is directly related to doing this job,” Brown said. “I have been trying cases and arguing appeals for over 20 years. I have literally spent thousands of hours of my life in courtrooms working before our judges and learning from them.” (Candidate Questionnaire)
- Website; Online bio
- Facebook — Chris Brown for Collier County Judge Group 3
- Instagram — chrisbrownforjudge
- Patriot Talk Show with Brendon Leslie, at Seed to Table, 6/28/22 (Brown’s appearance begins at 18:52)
- Florida Bar Member Profile
- Voter Focus Candidate Statement
Barger and Brown have very different legal experiences which each believes better qualify them for the job.
According to Barger, “Trial attorneys only argue from one perspective, they do not approach matters from an impartial, unbiased point of view.” (Candidate Questionnaire)
According to Brown, trial experience such as he has is needed for the job. (Patriot Talk Show at 25:50)
Importantly, neither candidate has ever been disciplined by the bar association or any other authority on attorney or judicial conduct.
Barger’s website lists 25 members of “Team Barger,” including prominent Naples attorneys John Passidomo and Edward Cheffy, Hon. Fred Hardt (retired), and the personal injury and employment law firm of Weldon & Rothman.
Brown’s website lists endorsements from elected Republicans Amira Fox, State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit; Bob Rommel, Florida House of Representatives District 106; Lauren Melo, Florida House of Representatives District 80; Kathy Smith, Public Defender for the 20th Judicial Circuit; and Crystal Kinzel, Collier County Clerk of Courts. He has also been endorsed by Alfie Oakes and the Oakes Farms Family and Ita Neymotin, Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel.
Here are the contributions and expenditures reported by each candidate on their most recent campaign treasurer’s reports:
Barger received 59 monetary contributions: 50 from individuals, eight from businesses, and made a personal loan to the campaign of $60,000. Twenty-six contributors are related to the legal profession, and three are related to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. Ten contributors have “protected” addresses because they are members of the judicial or law enforcement communities. Three percent of the amount contributed by the remaining 49 contributors was from out of state.
Brown received 119 monetary contributions: 82 from individuals, 36 from businesses, and $50,000 from himself. Seventy-three contributors are current or retired attorneys, three are related to the bail bonds business, and four are in real estate. Six percent of the dollar amount contributed was from out of state.
Only you can decide which candidate you think would make a better county judge.
If you have questions about either of the candidates, don’t hesitate to contact them directly through their website.
If you have questions or need additional information about the election itself, visit the Collier County Supervisor of Elections website or call 239-252-8683.