In 1957 the Florida Legislature created an intermediate legal arbiter between the trial courts and the state Supreme Court. These are the district courts of appeal, where litigants seek a second opinion or a reversal of circuit and county court decisions.
There were three district courts in the beginning, the First District in Tallahassee, the Second District in Lakeland and the Third in Miami. Today, there are five DCAs, with two districts — the Third and the Fourth — covering South Florida between Monroe and Okeechobee counties.
The Third District covers Miami-Dade and Monroe counties and is headquartered in Miami. It currently is made up of 10 judges.
The Fourth District covers Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties. It’s based in West Palm Beach and has 12 judges.
Since the Florida Supreme Court has judicial discretion over which appellate cases it will hear, the vast majority of the state’s legal appeals end at the DCA level. So the DCAs have a wide impact on Floridians’ lives when it comes to decisions ranging from criminal convictions to appropriate land use.
District court judges are nominated by the Florida Judicial Nominating Commission and appointed by the governor. Like state Supreme Court justices they must run for retention every six years. Newly appointed judges face retention votes in the next general election. Five judges from the Third District and two from the Fourth District are on the Nov. 6 ballot.
A recent statewide Florida Bar poll asked its members if the three Florida Supreme Court justices and the 15 district court judges up for retention votes this year deserved to be retained. The poll responses for retention of all the justices and district judges averaged 90 percent for keeping them on the bench. And we agree, in so far as the judges in the two South Florida district appellate courts deserve another six years on the bench.
Judge Angel Cortiñas was appointed to the court in 2005 by former Gov. Jeb Bush. His background includes teaching law at the University of Miami and Florida International University and serving a total of 14 years as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami.
Judge Kevin M. Emas, an 11th judicial circuit court judge for 14 years and a former assistant public defender in Miami-Dade, was appointed to the Third district in 2010 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.
Judge Ivan F. Fernandez was appointed in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott. He served as a circuit judge in Miami-Dade County from 2002 to 2011, and is a former prosecutor and former Miami police major.
Judge Leslie Rothenberg was appointed by Gov. Bush in 2005. A former veteran prosecutor for the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, Judge Rothenberg served as an 11th judicial circuit judge for 11 years before her appointment to the Third District.
Judge Richard Suarez, a former Miami-Dade County Court judge for two years and, before that, a private practitioner, was appointed to the district court in 2004 by Gov. Bush.
Judge Burton C. Conner was appointed in 2011 by Gov. Scott.
Prior to his appointment, Judge Connor served as a circuit judge in the 19th judicial circuit from 1997 to 2011 and also served two years as an Okeechobee County judge.
Judge Carol Taylor was appointed in 1998 by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles.
She served as a county court judge in Broward County’s 17th judicial circuit for four years and as a circuit court judge for three years before her appointment.
The Miami Herald recommends Yes for retention of all seven district court judges.