With the arrival of spring each year, there are certain things we can expect to experience—warmer temperatures, longer days, blooming flowers and people carrying clipboards while soliciting signatures for candidate petition cards.
For judicial qualifying of trial court judges in the state of Florida, potential candidates for the position of circuit or county court judge may qualify as candidates by either securing petition cards or paying the qualifying fee.
Judicial candidates wishing to qualify by the petition process must secure the signatures of 1 percent of the voters in the geographical region for the office they seek. Candidates for the position of Marion County Judge seeking to qualify by the petition process are required to obtain 2,309 verified petition cards from the over 230,000 voters in Marion County.
But, candidates for Circuit Court Judge must obtain verified signatures from 1 percent of the entire Fifth Judicial Circuit. As such, these candidates must obtain verified petitions from 7,818 of the 781,761 registered voters in Marion, Citrus, Lake, Sumter and Hernando Counties. As significant as this task may appear, it pales in comparison to the 13,793 required signatures for judicial candidates seeking to qualify by the petition method in Miami-Dade County.
The other option available to potential judicial candidates is to pay a qualifying fee equal to 3 percent of the annual salary for the office sought plus an election assessment, which is an additional 1 percent of the annual salary.
Judges serving on the District Courts of Appeal and Florida Supreme Court stand for merit retention elections at the conclusion of their six-year terms. Not only are these judges not required to secure signatures on petition cards or pay a filing fee, but in the 40-year history of merit retention elections of appellate court judges in the State of Florida, never has an appellate court judge been voted out of office by the voters.
The Florida Code of Judicial Conduct also provides additional restrictions to those seeking to qualify as candidates for judicial office.
For judicial candidates who seek to qualify by the petition process, the candidates are prohibited from personally requesting a signature on a petition card from attorneys or people who may find themselves appearing before the candidate if he or she wins the election.
Regarding the issue of monetary contributions to a judicial candidate’s campaign, the restrictions are even greater, as the candidate is prohibited from personally soliciting campaign funds from anyone. Rather, judicial campaign contributions may be solicited by a “committee of responsible persons” (not including the judicial candidate) who may secure funds for the judicial candidate’s campaign.
Candidates for judicial office must balance the requirements associated with qualifying, with the restrictions provided by the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. These are just some of the reasons why being appointed to the Florida Supreme Court is so “appealing.”