Voters in Pinellas County will help decide the fate of 14 judges on Election Day 2022.
Just one of those races involves two candidates: The county judge race between Della Cope and Megan Roach. The other 13 are judicial retention votes. In those races, if a majority of voters vote “yes” on a judge, they get to serve another six-year term. (The judges up for retention originally got their jobs via gubernatorial appointment.)
Here’s a guide to the judges on the Pinellas ballot.
The sole county judge race before voters pits Megan Roach against Della Cope. The winner will get a six-year term on the county bench, which handles misdemeanor cases, traffic tickets and minor civil disputes.
Roach, a trial lawyer and member of the Federalist Society of Tampa Bay, wrote on her website that she is dedicated to protecting the Pinellas County legal system. She was born and raised in the county, and she has been endorsed by Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes, Property Appraiser Mike Twitty and others.
Cope, a civil plaintiff’s litigation attorney, touts her experience representing the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in a variety of matters in recent years. She also served as a prosecutor at the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office for a decade. She’s endorsed by House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and others.
District Court of Appeal
Seven judges with the 2nd District Court of Appeal are up for retention votes. That 16-member court, which has headquarters in Lakeland and Tampa, hears trial appeals for a population that covers six million Floridians and 14 counties. Sitting only below the Florida Supreme Court, it sets precedent on a wide variety of legal matters.
Patricia Joan Kelly
Originally appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001 to sit on the 2nd District Court of Appeal, Kelly is looking to be retained by voters for the fourth time.
Her career in the law includes stints in both public and private practice, and she has been involved with a number of legal committees and initiatives, including the Innocence Commission — a committee created by Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady to investigate potential wrongful convictions.
Some 78% of Kelly’s colleagues on the Florida Bar voted in a survey that she should be retained.
Khouzam is an appointee of former Gov. Charlie Crist. She was picked to sit on the 2nd District Court of Appeal in 2008.
Before she was appointed to the bench, she was a commercial litigation attorney. Her online profile lists numerous awards and accomplishments: For example, she received the University of Florida Law Alumni Council’s Judicial Appreciation Award in 2014.
According to the Florida Bar survey, 86% of Khouzam’s colleagues think she should be retained — the highest percentage of any 2nd District Court of Appeal judge up for retention.
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Labrit was appointed to the District Court of Appeal by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020 after decades in private practice.
Before becoming a judge, she appeared before Florida appeals courts numerous times over the years, litigating cases about commercial real estate, health care, insurance coverage and intellectual property, according to her online biography.
The Florida Bar survey found that 70% of respondents think Labrit should be retained.
Lucas was appointed to various judicial positions by both Crist and former Gov. Rick Scott — who picked him for the 2nd District Court of Appeal in 2014.
In one notable 2018 ruling, Lucas found that a change to Florida’s so-called “stand your ground law” could be applied retroactively to a case prosecuted before the change went into effect. That ruling further strengthened the law, making it easier for some defendants to claim self-defense. (The Supreme Court later found that the changes to “stand your ground” could not be applied retroactively.)
About 77% of the respondents to the Florida Bar survey said Lucas should be retained.
Morris, the current chief judge of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, was appointed by Crist to serve on the court in 2009.
Before being appointed to the bench, Morris ran a corporate, commercial and real estate practice, his online biography says. He has faced two previous retention votes: Some 66% of voters approved of him in 2010, and 69% approved in 2016.
A full 80% of Morris’ colleagues think he should be retained this time, according to the Florida Bar survey.
Stevan Travis Northcutt
A former journalist, Northcutt was appointed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal by former Gov. Lawton Chiles for a term starting in 1997. This is his fifth retention vote.
Northcutt earned some praise from LGBTQ rights advocates for a 2000 ruling in which he found a bias against a homosexual woman in a lower court’s custody decision. Christian conservatives with the group Family First Action are recommending against his retention.
Northcutt is popular with his colleagues: 85% of the Florida Bar survey respondents think he should be retained.
John K. Stargel
Stargel, a former Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, was appointed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in 2020 by DeSantis.
Before his time on the appeals court, he served as a circuit judge, and on the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission. Stargel also generated some controversy earlier this year for a dissent he wrote in which he found a 17-year-old high school student did not prove she was mature enough to obtain an abortion without her parents’ consent.
Some 64% of Stargel’s colleagues on the Florida Bar think he should be retained — the lowest percentage of any 2nd District Court of Appeal judge up for retention.
Craig C. Villanti
Villanti was appointed to his current post by Bush in 2003.
A former Eagle Scout, Villanti once started a program to “provide weekly pro bono services to the needy elderly population in Pasco County,” his online biography says. Across his three retention votes, Villanti has never gotten less than 66% support from voters.
Some 81% of Florida Bar survey respondents said Villanti should be retained.
Florida Supreme Court
Five of Florida’s seven state Supreme Court justices are up for retention votes this year. The Florida Supreme Court is the highest court in Florida: It rules on state constitutional matters, and its decisions apply to everyone in Florida. The court will likely soon decide the fate of abortion restrictions in Florida, as well as a number of other hot-button issues.
Charles T. Canady
Canady, an appointee of Crist in 2008, is a three-time chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. During his time on the bench, he has seen an unprecedented wave of conservatism wash over the highest level of Florida’s legal world.
Before he served on the bench, he was a three-term Republican U.S. representative and the general counsel to Jeb Bush. (Crist, now a Democrat, has said he regrets appointing Canady because of some of his decisions.)
In a survey of Florida Bar members, 73% said that Canady should be retained.
John D. Couriel
Couriel was picked to serve on the state Supreme Court by DeSantis in 2020. A first-generation American whose parents fled Cuba in the 1960s, Couriel, 44, is one of several young conservative judges appointed by DeSantis in recent years.
Before his appointment, Couriel ran twice unsuccessfully for the Florida Legislature, including a narrow loss to Democrat Daisy Baez in a 2016 race for state House. As an attorney, he served in both the public and private sectors. He was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, then an attorney for the international firm Kobre & Kim LLP.
The Florida Bar found 63% of voting members said Couriel should be retained.
Grosshans is another DeSantis Florida Supreme Court pick. She was selected in 2020 after working for years on various conservative Christian legal causes.
In 2018, Grosshans was picked by Scott to serve on the 5th District Court of Appeal. She has also been an adjunct professor at Valencia College and a prosecutor with the Ninth Circuit of Florida.
Some 59% of respondents to the Florida Bar survey said Grosshans should be retained — the lowest percentage of the Supreme Court justices up for retention.
Labarga, who was born in Cuba in 1952 and immigrated to the U.S. at 11, was appointed to the Supreme Court by Crist in 2008. He’s in his fifth decade of a legal career that started in a West Palm Beach public defender’s office.
Labarga was appointed to serve on the 15th Circuit Court by Chiles, a Democrat, in 1996. He has gained the reputation as something of a moderate on a court dominated by conservatives, voting against the majority in several high-profile cases — including one that struck down a Hillsborough County transit tax.
The Florida Bar survey found 85% of respondents said Labarga should be retained — the highest percentage of the Supreme Court justices up for retention.
Polston, the son of a Panhandle farmer, was appointed by Crist to the Supreme Court in 2008.
The certified public accountant and adjunct law professor at the Florida State University College of Law also served as chief justice on the court from 2012-2014. (Crist, now a Democrat, has said he regrets appointing Polston because of some of his decisions.)
But Polston’s colleagues seem to approve of him: 74% of respondents to the Florida Bar survey said he should be retained.
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Tampa Bay Times Election Coverage
VOTER GUIDE: Here’s who is on your ballot and where they stand on issues.
TAX BREAKS, FATE OF COMMISSION: Here’s a look at what measures are on the November ballot.
SUPREME COURT RETENTIONS? Florida voters will decide whether to retain 5 of 7 state Supreme Court justices.
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