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Pasco judge tries again for a seat on appellate court

When Circuit Judge Stanley Mills visited the 2nd District Court of Appeal on Wednesday to help a retiring judge with his caseload, Mills noted the striking absence of something he expects at courthouses.

Noise.

"There were no people wandering around the halls," he said Thursday. "No lawyers conferring with their clients. The quiet is something you really have to get used to."

Becoming acclimated to the quiet is a challenge Mills hopes one day to take up.

Mills, 50, a circuit judge since 1989, has applied for a judgeship that opened at the appellate court when President Clinton appointed appeal court Judge Richard Lazzara to the federal bench this year.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission closed applications for the judgeship Oct. 31. It was unclear how many applicants the post attracted. Commission members did not return phone calls Thursday.

The commission will interview candidates and forward a list of finalists to Gov. Lawton Chiles by Nov. 30. Chiles will have until the end of January to select the new judge.

Mills, a meticulous and highly regarded judge in the circuit, remains doubtful about his chances.

One reason: Mills applied this year to the 2nd District Court of Appeal judgeship that opened when Judge Jack R. Schoonover retired. Mills was not among four finalists forwarded to Chiles.

Another reason: Mills said that judges from less-populated counties such as Pasco generally are not in the running. Schoonover's replacement, for example, is a circuit judge in more populous Polk County.

A third reason: Mills has never been active in politics.

"I was never politically active before I was a judge," he said. "So it will be interesting to see if someone with no political clout, from a small county, does have a realistic chance."

The 14 judges of the 2nd District Court of Appeal rule on appeals from 14 Central Florida counties.

Mills' visit Wednesday to the 2nd District Court of Appeal had nothing to do with his application for the judgeship. Mills said he simply volunteered to help Schoonover close a number of cases before retirement.

Mills, a former prosecutor in the circuit before he entered private practice in the 1980s, was on a three-judge panel and heard five cases.

"When I was invited, I jumped at the chance," he said.

Mills said the appellate court would be an interesting change of pace for him. Though he enjoys work in the circuit, he said, a judge at that level is bound by precedent.

"I think what appeals to me basically is, as a trial judge, you're more in a reactive position," Mills said. "You cast about for help from lawyers to see whether or not the case law is there. And if it is, it's your job to follow it even if you don't like it."

An appellate judge, he said, has more opportunity to make case law that others follow.

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