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With few headlines, judges run on records // 5TH DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL

John Antoon. Gilbert Goshorn. Charles Harris.

Familiar with those names? Don't feel bad. Most people are not.

Still, voters will be asked to pass judgment on the men Nov. 5.

Antoon, Goshorn and Harris are three of the nine judges who sit on the 5th District Court of Appeal, and voters will decide whether they should stay on the bench six more years.

The process is called "merit retention," and it's unlike the system that other candidates follow. Under merit retention, judges run only against their records. There is no opposing candidate. Voters simply say "yes" or "no."

These judges consider appeals in criminal and civil matters from Citrus, Hernando and 11 other counties. They also hear some county court cases. They do not consider death penalty appeals.

"The best thing about it is the time to stop and reflect," Goshorn said of his job during a recent interview.

Goshorn, like the other two candidates, has spent time as a circuit judge. That means they made snap decisions whenever an attorney objected to a question or a defendant pleaded for leniency in sentencing.

"You had to operate by instinct," he said.

On the appellate court, judges can review lengthy legal briefs that lawyers prepare for them and also hear oral argument from the attorneys. The judges have time to research legal issues and then write an opinion explaining their decisions.

It's slow, thoughtful work _ not the kind that usually makes headlines. That's why most people have not heard of Antoon, Goshorn, Harris or their compatriots.

So, how should voters make up their minds? It might be useful to know that the people who have heard of the men _ other judges and lawyers _ have issued ringing endorsements.

The Florida Bar conducted a survey this year and asked members to rate the judges' performance. Of those who said they had "considerable knowledge" of the candidates, 93 percent recommended retention for Antoon, 89 percent for Goshorn and 88 percent for Harris.

Of those who said they had "limited knowledge," nearly 90 percent gave a "thumbs-up" to each candidate.

Antoon, 50, has been a lawyer since 1971 and a judge on the court since 1995. He earned his undergraduate degree from Florida Southern College and his law degree from Florida State University. He previously has worked as a lawyer in private practice, as an assistant public defender and as a Circuit Court judge in Brevard and Seminole counties from 1985 to 1995.

Goshorn, 61, is a member of the Judicial Qualifications Commission and is set to become its chairman next year. He also is chairman of a statewide committee that studies courtroom technology.

Goshorn earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida and has been on the court since 1989. He previously was a Circuit Court judge in Brevard and Seminole counties.

In local cases, Goshorn was the lone dissenter on a three-judge panel that granted rape suspect Jesse Cade new trials.

The two other judges said Circuit Judge John Thurman abused his discretion by not allowing the defense to spend county money for a scientific expert to rebut the state's evidence at trial. As a result, they said, Cade should receive another chance to acquit himself.

Goshorn said Cade did not deserve that chance. He noted that Cade's attorney was familiar with DNA testing yet repeatedly failed to explain why Cade needed expert help at trial. "The most obvious answer," he wrote, "is that there was no real basis or necessity for the defense expert."

Gov. Bob Martinez appointed Harris, 61, to the court in September 1989. He previously served as a circuit judge in Brevard and Seminole counties. Harris earned his undergraduate degree from the College of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark., and a law degree from the University of Florida.

Harris was one of the judges who lambasted Thurman for taking 14 months to announce his decision in a child custody battle. Although he did not write the opinion, Harris concurred in calling the delay "indefensible and intolerable."

JOHN ANTOON, 50, was appointed to the court in 1995. He earned his undergraduate degree from Florida Southern College and his law degree from Florida State University. Antoon has been a lawyer since 1971 and has served in private practice, as an assistant public defender and as a Circuit Court judge in Brevard and Seminole counties from 1985 to 1995. He is married. ASSETS: home, property, bank accounts, bonds, vehicles, household goods. LIABILITIES: mortgage, two other loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: judicial salary.

GILBERT GOSHORN, 61, earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida. He has been on the court since 1989 and previously was a Circuit Court judge in Brevard and Seminole counties. He also worked in private practice and as Brevard County attorney. He is married and has three children. ASSETS: bank accounts, securities, real estate, three vehicles, IRA and other investment accounts, bonds, household goods. LIABILITIES: none. SOURCES OF INCOME: judicial salary, dividends, interest, capital gains.

CHARLES M. HARRIS, 61, was appointed to the court in September 1989 by Gov. Bob Martinez. He previously served as a circuit judge in Brevard and Seminole counties. Harris earned his undergraduate degree from the College of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark., and a law degree from the University of Florida. He worked in private practice before taking the bench. ASSETS: property, town house, office building, bank accounts and two cars. LIABILITIES: car loans, one bank loan. SOURCES OF INCOME: judicial salary, rental property.

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