Awaiting word on County Judge Finalists

Submitted by

Suanne Z. Thamm, Reporter News AnalystNassau County Judicial Office

Although the official announcement won’t be made until tomorrow, readers of the Fernandina Observer might find some background on the process of interest.

Florida’s Fourth Judicial Nominating Commission convened shortly after 9:00 a.m. on January 31, 2013 in the Grand Jury Room of the Nassau County Judicial Annex in Yulee to begin interviewing 11 applicants for the position of Nassau County Judge.  This position became vacant with the death of County Judge Granville “Doc” Burgess in early December 2012.  Interviews were scheduled for 20 minutes each, and applicants were interviewed in alphabetical order.  The 9-member commission took one morning break and lunch, concluding the interviews around 2:30 p.m.  At that time the public portion of the process concluded and members retired to another room to deliberate.  Their charge from the governor was to forward for his consideration at least 3 but not more than 6 top ranked candidates.  Upon receipt of their list, the governor has 60 days to make a final selection.  Until that decision is made, retired County Judge Robert Williams will continue to serve in an interim capacity.

The Process

Members of the Judicial Nominating Commission are appointed by the governor.  All current members are attorneys.  Only one member – former Nassau County Attorney Michael Mullin – currently resides in Nassau County.  Henry G. “Chip” Bachara of the Bachara Construction Law Group in Jacksonville chairs the commission and assigns applications to commission members for investigation and lead questioning during interviews.  In addition to considering lengthy applications and interviews, members are also provided with reports on each applicant from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and The Florida Bar.  Deliberations of the Commission are not public.  Members will select their top candidates via a voting process following any discussion.  Bachara reported that it is the Commission’s intent to inform the applicants of the results by telephone later today.  A press release will be sent out to the public tomorrow morning.

Commission member Mike Mullin said that while there was significant input on the applicants coming from reference checks and member-initiated inquiries, there was little input from the public at large.  Other than two press representatives, only three members of the public attended the interviews.  Judge Robert Williams sat in on some of the interviews as well.

Interview Questioning

Each candidate was given an opportunity to provide information to help Commission members better understand their backgrounds, strengths and interest in becoming Nassau County Judge.  Commission members appeared especially interested in determining whether the applicants had a good understanding of the importance of the role of county judge in Nassau County.  Unlike large counties, Nassau has only one county judge.  Because in many ways the county judge is the face of the judiciary to anyone who has any encounter with the legal system, Commission members zeroed in on the applicants’ abilities to deal effectively with a wide range of people across the entire breadth of the county.  Judicial demeanor was a topic that came up during interviews, as well as the willingness and ability to spend considerable time when not at work engaged with the local citizenry in both formal and informal settings.  Commissioners made sure that the applicants understood that they would be responsible for First Appearances on Saturday, Sundays and holidays.  Applicants who do not currently reside in Nassau County assured the Commission that if selected, they would move their families to Nassau County, not maintain two residences.

Applicants ranged in age from early 30’s to 63.  Some of the applicants had applied previously for circuit court or county court vacancies in the 4th District.  At least two of the candidates had run unsuccessfully for election to a county judge position.  Applicants were asked about their experience with Administrative Judge Robert Foster and Circuit Judge Brian Davis.  Applicants were questioned about their experience, their intention to run for the position in the future if appointed by the governor, and their preference for working in Nassau County or Duval County, should other judgeships become vacant.  Some were also questioned about their tempers, their public statements and even their sense of humor.

It became crystal clear that all members of the Commission see the role of the Nassau County Judge as critical to the local judicial system.  They will deliberate carefully in making their recommendations.

January 31, 2013 5:32 p.m.