The coming-up-fast Aug. 18 primary will decide who wins four seats on Florida’s Ninth Judicial District Circuit Court (the Ninth embraces Orange and Osceola counties). Since each race has two candidates, there will not be runoffs. All eight of the candidates appeared July 8 at the League of Women Voters Orange County Hot Topics program (via Zoom).
Ninth District Judge Bob LeBlanc, serving as moderator, introduced Group 1 candidates Rhiannon Arnold and Mikaela Nix, vying for an open seat; Group 21’s Alan Apte (incumbent) and Christy Collins; Group 34’s Mike Kraynick (incumbent) and Amrita Singh; and Group 39 hopefuls Vincent Falcone and Mark Van Valkenburgh, also up for an open seat.
Judge LeBlanc came up with a variety of questions for the panelists, but they didn’t all address the same issues/questions.
Van Valkenburgh, who stressed his 25 years of experience in varied areas of law, said that as a result of the covid-19 pandemic and the resultant back-up in court business, he favors virtual sessions of court, but he said we have to make sure all participants have access to the technology required.
Falcone, who advocated for the state LWV on its successful campaign for fair districting, said that in a service-based economy like Florida’s, it means some can’t afford lawyers, and he wants to assure that they have equal access to justice. He vows to be humble, fair and reach decisions in a timely fashion.
Singh said she has no preference as to which division she might be assigned to, adding that she is most familiar with civil litigation and that she’d like to explore all the divisions. She wants to reflect “our unique, diverse population in Central Florida.”
Judge Kraynick said the state will need qualified judges during the recovery from the pandemic and that his experience with teaching and complex business law stand out. He emphasized his work with young people via his coaching and teaching and said he wants to set an example for his own two children.
Collins, who has her own law practice, believes a judge should have “a servant’s heart” and said she would promote fairness, equanimity and common sense. As for a law she might not agree with, she said “Our personal convictions guide us, but a judgeship requires upholding the law.”
Judge Apte, chair-elect of the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges, said he makes a concerted effort to explain the rules, the facts and the law to those who come before him in court. He also believes in keeping his job and those of lawyer friends separate. He was first elected in 2002.
Arnold, who has 15 years of experience as a trial lawyer, said she’ll be ready on Day One. “The big challenge will be leaving advocacy and calling the balls and strikes,” she said. “Just because I don’t look like everyone who comes before me doesn’t mean I can’t relate.”
Nix said the Aug. 18, 2020, primary date is special to her because it will be the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the vote. She believes that everyone in a community is important and that judges make a major impact on that community. “All should get the same advocacy and honesty,” she said.