73ºF

Duval County judges

2 challenges to sitting judges on ballot in August primary

photo

Three of five seats up for election as Duval County judge are incumbent judges who will return to the bench without opposition.

Those on the ballot include Isaac East challenging incumbent Scott Mitchell in Group 1 and Rhonda Peoples Waters is challenging incumbent Erin Perry in Group 6.

Like all judicial posts, these are nonpartisan elections that will appear on everyone’s ballot in the August primary.

Scroll down to read each candidate’s responses to News4Jax’s questionnaire, presented verbatim as submitted. Because the Florida Bar restricts those running for judge from engaging in political activities and taking positions on issues, the candidates’ responses to our News4Jax questionnaire based on their understanding of that restriction.

  DUVAL COUNTY JUDGE, GROUP 1

Isaac East

Age: 46

Candidate’s family: 2 sons

Occupation: Attorney

Education: Juris Doctorate from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University College of Law in 2011. Virginia Wesleyan University Bachelor of Arts in Political Science

Political experience: Experienced Community Leader

What do you see as the top three issues in this race?

  1. COVID and the allocation of resources
  2. Representation
  3. Balance on the bench

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

I am committed to service as proven by my long-standing history of community engagement, prior law enforcement experience and Military career.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

I want to be remembered for being balanced and impartial.

If elected how would you address the calls for racial justice?

I would apply the facts to the law and rule accordingly.

What challenges does COVID-19 present to the office you are seeking?

COVID-19 will cause the judicial system to regroup and put additional continuity measures in place.

Campaign website: eastforjudge.com

Campaign’s social media pages: Facebook - East for Judge


Scott Mitchell

Age: 63

Candidate’s family: Wife: Amy Mitchell; Sons: Jeff Mitchell, Chris Mitchell

Occupation: I am a sitting County Court Judge

Education: BA (Political Science), St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY, 1979; JD, Florida State University, 1982

Political experience: None.

What do you see as the top three issues in this race?

  1. Experience: I am a former prosecutor (4 years), followed by 25 years in private practice. I have now served as a County Court Judge for the past 8 years. During my time on the bench, I have presided over thousands of criminal and civil cases;
  2. Work Ethic: I have worked hard during my eight years on the bench. I have presided over 63 jury trials to verdict. Eleven of those were felony trials (including first degree murder, armed robbery, and burglary), which I handled while maintaining my own caseload. I have been appointed twice by the Florida Supreme Court to act as a mentor for new judges. In that capacity, I have mentored four newly-appointed county court judges through the one year mentorship program. In my service as a mentor, I created a new judge’s “Benchbook,” which provides new judges with the dialogues, colloquies, sentencing laws, evidentiary issues and other matters which a new judge must utilize while serving on the bench. Every new County Court Judge is given a copy of this Benchbook.
  3. Fairness: I believe I am recognized as a judge who strives to be fair in the sentences I impose and the rulings I make. When appropriate, I explain my rulings in writing so that the litigants understand the basis for my decisions. While I don’t necessarily expect all litigants to agree with my decisions, I do strive to insure all involved understand the reasons behind those decisions.

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

I am running for re-election as a County Court Judge based upon my experience, reputation and past record as a judge. Respectfully, I submit that my record as a judge speaks for itself.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

I hope to be remembered as a judge who was fair, honest, hard-working, and issued rulings based on the facts and the law.

If elected how would you address the calls for racial justice?

The sentences I impose and the rulings I make are done so independent of race. They always have been, and always will be. I do, however, consider any criminal defendant's background and history when crafting an appropriate sentence, as well as all other factors required by Florida law.

What challenges does COVID-19 present to the office you are seeking?

The COVID crisis has posed immense challenges for the Court system. Thanks to the efforts of our Chief Judge, IT department and others, we have continued to move forward and handle our criminal and civil caseloads to the fullest extent possible. I am extremely proud of the way my criminal and civil divisions have continued to operate using the latest technology available. Recently, I served as a panelist on a statewide CLE seminar, which educated lawyers on the proper use of ZOOM audio/video technology. In the 4th Circuit, we use ZOOM extensively to continue moving our caseload. Our biggest current challenge is attempting to resume jury trials as soon as possible, while insuring the safety of all involved. Once the Supreme Court grants clearance to resume jury trials, the handling of the backlog of cases needing to be tried will be an immense challenge. Detailed planning is underway in our circuit to insure we are ready to re-initiate jury trials once we obtain authorization from the Supreme Court.

Campaign website: Website information will be supplied

Campaign’s social media pages: Social Media links will be supplied

  DUVAL COUNTY JUDGE, GROUP 6

Rhonda Peoples Waters

Age: 46

Candidate’s family: Jasmine, 18 year old daughter attending Florida A&M and Florida State dual engineering college program

Occupation: Small Business Owner and Attorney

Education: Fisk University/Bachelor of Science and University of Florida/Juris Doctorate

Political experience: Former Jacksonville Ethics Commissioner and Prior Judicial Candidate

What do you see as the top three issues in this race?

  • Legal Experience: 20 years of diverse law practice including Contract, Federal, Probate, Family, Evictions, Small Claims, Criminal and Personal Injury.
  • Integrity: I will follow the law as it is written and make tough decisions based on the law.
  • Public Service: 20 years of public and community service including Jacksonville Ethics Commissioner, Bar Association President, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Board President, Florida Bar Grievance Committee Chair, Parent Teacher Association President at Susie E. Tolbert Elementary and Graduate of JSO’s Citizens Police Academy.

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

My 20+ years of diverse legal experience versus my opponent’s significantly less years of experience and even lesser diversity in practice, will yield more well-reasoned, equitable and unbiased rulings. My varied background and extensive experience in all areas of the law that a county judge handles will provide me the ability to consider legal cases and issues from a broader, deeper perspective while upholding the law. My opponent held one job in the single area of criminal law before becoming a judge. My opponent’s approximate one year of experience in regard to civil law, ex. handling contract and eviction cases, was a result of on the job training. I offer voters over 13 years of experience in civil law combined with over 20 years of criminal law experience. As a 12-year small business owner, I bring unique management experience that is valuable in the courtroom. County court is often called the “peoples” court because many people represent themselves. My extensive work in the community has taught me how to respect and handle people of varied backgrounds.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

I hope that people remember I fought to open doors in Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit. As the first-elected African American female judge in the Fourth Circuit, I hope to not only break down historical barriers, but also make the circuit proud of electing me by the way I serve as judge and uphold the law. Additionally, I hope that my mentorship and hard work inspires others to be great and strive for excellence as my grandfather, who served in World War II and then became a janitor at my high school, inspired me to excel.

If elected how would you address the calls for racial justice?

By uncompromisingly upholding the law, our community values and the U.S. Constitution in an unbiased manner that relies on my diverse experience and legal knowledge. The election of a public servant such as myself, as one who has a 20-year diverse history of service in the community, will promote public confidence in the judicial system.

What challenges does COVID-19 present to the office you are seeking?

COVID-19 has drastically impacted the entire judicial system. Specifically, judges are conducting most hearings and legal proceedings via zoom. The application of the law has not changed. However, the process has certainly changed. Judges are not presiding over trials that require jurors. Of course, this is creating a backlog in the pursuit of justice for all. However, safety must continue to be a priority while exploring different alternatives to help all parties move forward. Time management and excellent organizational skills, as I have applied as a small business owner during these unprecedented times, will be key in our judicial system’s full reopening.

Campaign website: PeoplesforJudge.com

Campaign’s social media pages: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


Erin Perry

Age: 38

Candidate’s family: Olivia, age 9, daughter

Occupation: Duval County Judge

Education: Bachelor’s Degree, University of Florida; Juris Doctor, University of Florida

Political experience: (no answer)

What do you see as the top three issues in this race?

As a sitting judge, my current three top issues/concerns are:

1. Creating and maintaining access to the courts during COVID.

2. When it becomes timely - addressing Sixth Amendment rights in an efficient and judicious manner.

3. Maintaining competency, integrity, and public confidence in the judiciary while adhering to the administrative and executive orders issued by the the Florida Supreme Court and our governor. 

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

In focusing on what I bring as a candidate without comparing to any other candidate: I bring experience, a demeanor suited for the bench, and a unique background and diverse life experiences. As the sitting judge, I have presided over jury trials, evidentiary hearings, and post-adjudication hearings. I have presided over traffic court, small claims court, first appearance court, misdemeanor criminal court, and civil court involving cases of less than $30,000. I have written orders, made rulings as to the admissibility of evidence at trial, and qualified hundreds of jurors. I am involved in numerous community service projects and have become involved in the Administration and Management Committee with the Florida Conference of County Court Judges. This experience, community involvement, as well as my personal life experiences put me in a position to be a fair, knowledgeable, and unbiased judge.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

I would hope that people remember me as a judge of integrity, who always followed the law, upheld the Constitution, and listened intently to all who appeared before me while maintaining the professionalism and civility within the proceedings. I would hope that I would be remembered as being fair, direct, hard-working, and kind.

If elected how would you address the calls for racial justice?

In my courtroom, race does not play a factor in my rulings or sentencing. While I do consider a person's background and history in sentencing, I do so as allowed by Florida statutes.

What challenges does COVID-19 present to the office you are seeking?

Having been a part of moving our court proceedings from in-person to an online platform, I can tell you that, while the transition has not been perfect, it has gone fairly smoothly. As one of the first judges to handle first appearance court remotely, I can say we navigated the challenges well. Upcoming issues we may face will include when and how to begin jury trials. Judges and attorneys are working together on this particular issue, and there are many considerations that will go into making a final plan. Of concern is working to ensure, to the best of our ability, the health and safety of all involved. This will need to be accomplished while also providing a platform where all parties and litigants have access to fully try their case and make their arguments before the jury.

Campaign website: judgeerinperry.com

Campaign’s social media pages: Facebook