In Florida there is a two-tiered electoral system for judges. Trial court judges face competitive election, while appellate court judges are subject to merit retention votes every six years. Merit retention votes are essentially up-or-down votes of confidence.
While no jurist has been removed by the voters through merit retention since the first such election in 1978, there is another way that the state judiciary is policed. The Judicial Qualifications Commission has the job of investigating allegations of wrongdoing by state judges and can recommend their removal for ethical breaches. Numerous judges have been disciplined and removed as a result of the JQC's recommendations.
This region votes on merit retention for judges on the 2nd District Court of Appeal and Florida Supreme Court. Terms are staggered so that a different group of jurists is up every two years. This year, those facing merit retention are: Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells; and 2nd District Court of Appeal Judges Chris Altenbernd, Carolyn Fulmer, Morris Silberman and James Whatley.
Most instructive in determining whether these jurists are performing up to standards is a biennial Florida Bar poll. Attorneys with at least some knowledge of the judges are asked about their qualifications, including the quality and clarity of judicial opinions, knowledge of law, integrity and other key factors. More than 4,000 lawyers participated this year, and the overwhelming support for retention is reassuring: Wells, 91 percent; Altenbernd, 94 percent; Fulmer, 88 percent; Silberman, 90 percent; and Whatley, 87 percent.
A check of JQC records found that none of these jurists have had formal charges brought against them.
For all of these jurists, the Times recommends a "retain" vote for the merit retention.