Florida Bar investigating after Jacksonville attorney becomes judge without an election

The event taking place this past week have the legal community, and the NAACP questioning if everyone had a fair shot at the judge's seat.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Bar said Monday it is investigating after last-minute moves made by a Circuit Judge and a Jacksonville attorney led to that attorney winning the judge’s seat by default — without an election.

The Florida-Times Union was first to report the story on Friday.

The events that happened Friday have the legal community and the Jacksonville NAACP questioning if everyone had a fair shot at the judge’s seat.

Here’s how it played out.

The deadline for candidates for the circuit judge positions to file their qualifying papers to run for judge was April 24. At 9:04 that morning, the final day to file, clerks at the Division of Elections in Tallahassee time-stamped that they received Jacksonville attorney Michael Kalil’s letter changing the office he was seeking from another judicial seat, to Circuit Judge for Group 8, the seat currently held by Judge Tyrie Boyer who was running for re-election. (It’s important to know that most attorneys in Florida say there’s an unofficial rule not to run against a sitting judge.)

Less than two hours after Kalil filed for Judge Boyer’s seat, clerks time-stamped that they received a faxed letter from Judge Boyer withdrawing his candidacy for the race. The letter was dated the day before the filing deadline.

Jacksonville attorney Michael Kalil (Facebook)

The last-minute changes left less than two hours for other potential candidates to join the race and eventually led to Kalil winning a judge’s seat with no opposition and no election.

The Florida Bar told News4Jax it has “opened an investigation to determine if Michael Kalil‘s conduct in the matter […] constitutes violation of any of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.”

In a phone conversation with Judge Boyer, he told News4Jax his withdrawal had more to do with not wanting to run a campaign with only a few years left on the bench. Judge Boyer also said he’d heard he would have opposition from either Kalil or Attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters.

“I am almost 72 years old," Judge Boyer said. "If anybody ran against me I was going to withdraw my candidacy. Campaigns are too hard and too stressful. I withdrew in time to get my qualifying fee returned.”

But questions remain in Florida’s legal community: Who else knew Judge Boyer was planning on retiring and did others have a fair shot at running for the seat?

Peoples-Waters is currently running for a Duval County court seat.

In a statement from her campaign, Peoples-Waters said she asked Judge Boyer directly if he was planning on retiring.

Emails obtained by News4Jax show Waters set up the meeting back in August.

In a statement to News4Jax she said:

The timeline has done more than raise eyebrows in the legal community, it’s also irritated voters who feel they weren’t given the opportunity to elect a candidate fairly.

“If it was not known to others who wanted to run, then I think it’s unethical,” Greg Burton said.

News4Jax reached out to Kalil’s office by phone and left a message and sent an email. We have not heard back yet.

News4Jax also reached out to the Judicial Qualifications Commission. A spokesperson said the commission is aware of the story but is unable to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation into the matter.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.