Controversy over replacing judge's seat

Seat no longer on ballot; governor to appoint judge

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Duval County Chief Judge Donald Moran will retire in January, but the process of deciding who will fill his seat is becoming a topic of controversy.

Moran holds one of most powerful judgeships in northeast Florida and has told the governor he will retire.

That opens up a seat on the bench, and those wanting that position recently found out there won't be an election.

Instead, it would be up to the governor to name a replacement, even though Moran's term is up this year, meaning the governor's appointment would serve for nearly two years until the next general election.

David Trotti, who wants to run for the judge's seat, said he has the utmost respect for Moran and said his concern is not with the judge but with the state's Division of Elections.

"This is about a process that I believe in, the election process," Trotti said.

Moran wrote the governor about his plans.

"Please accept this as a notice of my resignation in the 4th Judicial Circuit effective the last day of my term in January of 2015," the letter reads.

It goes on to say: "I believe with this notice that the judgeship I am resigning from should be filled by appointment. Qualifying for this seat begins in late April if you elect to allow it to be filled by election."

Trotti said the spot was listed as open, so he filed to run. But then he started to get phone calls from the state and an email that reads: "The vacancy created will be filled by appointment by the Governor and this seat will not be up for the 2014 election. As we discussed you will need to withdraw your candidacy."

Now the slot for Group 12, Moran's seat, is no longer on the ballot this year.

"Unfair to the voters," Trotti said. "I had an opportunity. I could have slid by candidacy to a different group. There are several groups I could have run for. But I saw this was bigger than me, and it's a process I want to get clarified. Group 12 should go to the electorate to vote."

Trotti has filed a complaint with the Florida Supreme Court to try to get the race open so voters can decide on it.

It's a state decision, but Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said he hopes it's decided soon.

"Obviously we have qualifying for the other state candidates ending June 20," Holland said. "If this decision is made after that, it could really affect us, having to produce ballots twice."

Moran, who's served as a judge in Duval County for 37 years, said the governor's appointment by a three-member committee is the fair way to fill the seat until the next general election.

The Division of Elections has not returned a call for comment, and there was no word Tuesday from the Governor's Office to see if it plans on appointing someone.

As for the position of chief judge, that is voted on by colleagues.

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