Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Meet the Candidates: 20th Circuit Court (Part 1)

As I wrote yesterday, Collier County voters have the opportunity to vote for one of two candidates in each of two Circuit Judge elections: Group 3 and Group 16.

Group 3: Robert Branning

Robert Branning
Robert Branning is a partner with Rehak & Branning, LLC, a Fort Myers law firm. His campaign slogan is “Respect and Justice for All.”

His campaign website, Facebook Page, Twitter feed @branning4judge and LinkedIn presence make appropriate use of social media.

  • JD - Law / Mississippi College School of Law (1996)
  • BA - Law / Florida State University (1992)                                                                                                                     
  • Rehak & Branning, LLC / Partner (2005-present) – According to Branning’s LinkedIn page, Rehak & Branning is “A law firm specializing in criminal defense; most notably DUI & traffic offenses, sex offenses, violent crimes, drug/alcohol offenses and property crimes.”
  • Office of the State Attorney, 20th Judicial Circuit, Florida / Assistant State Attorney (2000-2003)
  • Admitted in the Florida Bar and the US Middle District of Florida for federal cases.
  • Southwest Florida College / Adjust Professor – law and ethics courses (dates unspecified)
  • Southwest Florida Institute for Public Safety / former instructor – concentration on law enforcement trainees (dates unspecified)
  • Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Lee County Chapter (past president and active member)
  • Fort Myers Rotary Club (member)
  • Community charitable organizations working to eliminate hunger and domestic violence, including the Harry Chapin Food Bank, Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Law Enforcement Memorial Fund
  • Participates in community activities that provide awareness of local need, including Meals for Hope, Hunger Walk, PACE Center for Girls Mentor session
Branning raised $69,880 in monetary contributions and $1,704 in in-kind contributions, and spent $41,904 through 7/15/14. His largest contributions to-date:
  • $50,000 – Personal loan to the campaign, on 1/27/14
  • $1,000 - Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner (law firm), Fort Myers, on 6/3/14
  • $1,000 – Scot Goldberg (attorney), Cape Coral, on 2/21/14
  • $1,000 – Goldberg Racila D’Allessandra & Noone, LLC (law firm), Fort Myers, on 2/21/14
  • $1,000 – Michael Noone (attorney), Fort Myers, on 2/21/14
Other contributions of note:
  • $500 each from 13 additional attorneys and law offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral or Bonita Springs; First Bay Partnership (court reporting), Fort Myers; and Mike Scott (Sheriff), Fort Myers
  • 48 additional contributions between $100 and $300, mostly from attorneys, law firms and other professionals in the Fort Myers area.
Branning’s website lists many endorsements, including Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott (R), Glades County Sheriff Stuart Whiddon (D), and Naples Mayor John Sorey II (R).

His campaign post card, mailed to my home, says, “Recently, the 20th Circuit’s Judicial Nominating Commission supported Robert as one of a select few qualified applicants for appointment by the Governor.”

A Google search turned up no red flags.

Group 3: Mary Evans

Mary Evans
Mary Evans, according to her campaign website, “is a family woman with a successful law practice in the broad field of family law [who] is married and is the proud mother of a 12 year old daughter.” Her campaign slogan is “Fair, Impartial, Thoughtful.”

Her campaign website, Facebook Page, Twitter feed @evans4judge and LinkedIn presence make appropriate use of social media.

Educational Background (years not disclosed unless noted0
  • Doctor of Jurisprudence/Juris Doctor / Stetson University College of Law
  • B.A. Summa Cum Laude / Florida Gulf Coast University
  • A.A. Summa Cum Laude / Edison State College

  • Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator
  • Law Office of Mary C. Evans, P.A. / Partner (2011-present) – “Provides professional Divorce and Family Law legal Services in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, Lee, County, Collier County Florida and the Surrounding Southwest Florida Areas.”
  • “Two prominent Lee County law firms … that practice family law exclusively” (2004-2011)
  • Admitted to the Florida Bar (2003)
  • Former small business owner
  • Licensed real estate broker
Affiliations (partial listing)
  • Lee County Bar Association (member 2010-present; currently President)
  • The Florida Bar Continuing Legal Education Committee (member)
  • Pro-Bono Attorney – Florida Guardian ad Litem
  • Pro Bono Service with the Sarasota County Public Defender’s Office
  • Lee County Children’s Home Board of Visitors
  • Lee County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee
  • Volunteer Administrative Assistant – All Saints Ukrainian Catholic Church
  • Volunteer – Quality Life Center Free Legal Clinic
  • PACE Center for Girls of Lee County
  • Florida Bar Speakers Bureau – Merit Retention
  • Arts for Act (Abuse Counseling Treatment Center)
Campaign Finance
Evans raised $53,210 in monetary contributions and no in-kind contributions, and spent $36,531 through 7/18/14. Her largest contributions to-date:
  • $42,000 – Personal loans to the campaign, on 4/25 and 5/29/14
  • $1,000 - Absolute Law, PA (attorney), Fort Myers, on 4/25/14
  • $1,000 - Michael E. Chionopoulos (attorney), Fort Myers, on 4/25/14
  • $1,000 – Tina Crumpacker (life coach), Fort Myers, on 7/2/14
Other contributions of note:
  • $500 each from five attorneys, one CPA, and two real estate developers in Fort Myers and one Bonita Springs attorney.
  • 22 additional contributions between $100 and $250, from attorneys, business owners, in the Fort Myers area. 
Evans’ website lists many endorsements from a diverse groups of community members, including City of Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson (R), Lee County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Angelo Vaughn, and USPS Mail Carrier Gaye Breautt.

A Google search turned up no red flags.

Discussion

Both candidates appear, from what’s available online, to be appropriately qualified, and I found no red flags in a Google search.

However there is a distinct difference in the sources of campaign contributions between the two candidates. Brannings’ are primarily from attorneys and law firms, with fewer smaller contributions than Evans'. I’m concerned about the significance of Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott’s endorsement and $500 contribution to Branning. Scott is a politician whose politics I don’t share.  Evans’ contributions come from more diverse sources.

Evans campaign flyer, “Information for Voters: Mary Evans for Judge,” says, in the context of the State of Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct,
Mary has consistently refrained from discussing any partisan politics or party affiliation whether it be hers or that of another candidate or member of the judiciary and she has prohibited her staff and volunteers from discussing same. Mary has not attended any partisan political activities and has prohibited her supporters from campaigning at any partisan political gatherings. Mary’s financial support has not come primarily from a single occupation narrow economic group but from a broad spectrum of our socio-economic constituency. Partisan politics or special interest groups and their potential influence have no place in judicial campaigns or on the bench and there are no degrees to Integrity! Mary Evans sincerely pledges to uphold the Integrity, Independence and Impartiality of the Judiciary and uphold the Constitution and enforce the Law.
I like that. I also like what Evans’ various community affiliations say about her and her priorities..

I will vote for Mary Evans for Circuit Judge for Group 3.

___________________

In my next post, I’ll review the candidates for Circuit Judge for Group 16.


6 comments:

  1. I've been challenged to find information that explains that the 20th Judicial Circuit is made up of 16 Groups. Five Groups (?) terms are up this election. Only Groups 3 and 16 are on the ballot because their positions are being contested. The Judges in the other Groups up for election are un-contested, therefore those Judges are not on the ballot and are automatically re-instated in their positions.....Can you confirm all of this please and give us a more comprehensive understanding of the terms of the Judges etc.?

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    1. Thank you for your interest. I was challenged by the same questions! Your explanation is correct as far as I was able to find out through web research. I also found a booklet published by the Florida Bar to be helpful, though it doesn't answer all your questions. See http://tinyurl.com/p2dlakf

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    2. This might be helpful, too, re the Trial Courts. http://tinyurl.com/q7c36nt

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    3. If you find any more relevant information, please let me know.

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  3. Do you have any concern about the "conservative listening" and "conservative" approach used in Mary Evans' campaign page-that is why I was leaning toward Branning-but also do not like the Scott association? Mmmm

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