Florida Sentencing Blog

A discussion of contemporary law, policy, and practice in Florida criminal sentencing.

Sample Questions for Judicial Candidates

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What would you ask a judicial candidate if you had the opportunity to question him or her?

The quality of our judiciary has a direct correlation to the quality of what goes on in our courts of law, including our sentencings in criminal court. Although slightly off-topic for a sentencing blog, the following is a complilation of sample questions to ask those who would be our judges:

I. Knowledge.

1. Do you believe the composition of juries adequately and fairly reflects society at large? Why or why not? If not, what can we do to change this? What are the pros and cons of using drivers license registration as a source of jurors?

2. What have been the most effective methods for improving court procedures and efficiency over the past five years? What other methods would you suggest?

3. How could the costs of judicial administration be reduced? Can you give us a specific example of how you have reduced costs in your law practice?

4. To what extent have you practiced in the area of criminal law? Family law? Complex civil litigation?

5. Under what circumstances can the courts seal court files or close court proceedings?

6. What do you perceive as the greatest obstacles to justice, if any?

7. Do you believe that all citizens have adequate access to legal help and the legal system? If not, what can be done to provide wider and better access?

8. If you became aware of unethical conduct on the part of a trial advocate in a case in which you were presiding, how would you handle it? Do you believe judges should be required to report attorney misconduct?

9. What is your understanding of the distinctions between provisions of the U.S. and Florida Constitutions in the area of search and seizure?

10. Do you believe there is such a thing as a “victimless crime?” If so, what offenses would you place in this category?

11. What do you believe are the causes of the high rates of minority incarceration?

12. In the area of hate crimes, what are some of the issues in balancing free speech rights against the need to control offensive activity?

13. What factors are considered in granting and setting bail amounts for defendants? What do you believe is the primary consideration?

14. What are the issues regarding alternative sentences for non-violent offenders?

15. In felony cases, what criteria would you use for deciding whether to impose a downward departure from the presumptive minimum length of imprisonment?

16. What do you think about the growing prison population? What response should society have to prison overcrowding?

17. Violent crime, particularly youth violence, is perceived to be at a crisis level by many experts today. What, if any, do you believe is the appropriate role for the judiciary in addressing this perceived crisis?

18. What issues are involved in deciding whether or not to admit evidence of battered spouse syndrome or battered child syndrome?

19. What do you believe to be the root causes for the high numbers of juvenile offenders? What changes can the court system make to reduce these numbers?

20. Do you feel the war on drugs has been effective or ineffective?

21. Do you believe there is under-representation of women or people of color in the court system? If so, how would you work to correct the problem?

22. What are the major issues involved in the debate regarding gun control?

II. Character.

1. Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about a case, wishing you had handled something differently? If so, please describe one situation.

2. Describe your most difficult case.

3. Have you ever withdrawn from a case because you disagreed with your client? If so, please explain.

4. Please describe one instance in which you faced an ethical dilemma and how you resolved it.

5. Are there any specific types of cases in which you know now that you will find it necessary to disqualify yourself? What types of cases, and why?

6. What kind of jobs, interests, or volunteer activities did you pursue during school and law school?

7. Do you believe that voluntary professional and community service is a necessary commitment for persons holding public office? What forms of voluntary professional and community service have you been involved with in the past? Currently?

8. What are the pros and cons of going to the bench as compared to practicing law?

9. As a prospective judge, what do you consider your greatest strengths? Weaknesses?

10. What has been your greatest accomplishment in your legal career? In your personal life?

11. What has been your bigest disappointment in your life, and not just in your legal career?

12. What qualities, other than obvious fairness and impartiality, will you bring to the bench that would make you a good judge?

13. If elected or re-elected to the position you seek, what is the minimum number of years you intend to serve before seeking a judicial post at a higher level? What is your commitment to serving out the full term?

14. What are the major influences in your life? Why?

15. What injustices have you witnessed in or outside the courtroom and what was your response to those events?

16. Do you believe the current system for disciplining lawyers and judges is effective? Why or why not?

17. Have you ever been disciplined by The Florida Bar? When, for what reason, and what was the discipline you received?

18. Have you ever been found guilty of a crime, including juvenile offenses for which you were adjudicated delinquent or for which adjudication was withheld, and adult offenses for which you were adjudicated guilty or for which adjudication was withheld? What crime or crimes? When and where were you found guilty and what was the sentence in each case?

19. Who are your judicial role models? Why?

20. What well-known U.S. or Florida Supreme Court judge (living or dead) do you most admire and why?

21. How do you define success?

III. Effectiveness.

1. Please describe your first- hand experiences, if any, dealing with people who are different from you socially, economically, or politically.

2. What are your views on whether the courts in Pinellas County, as a whole, deal effectively with racial and gender bias?

3. How do you deal with difficult people, including peers, lawyers, clients or litigants?

4. Please describe a situation in which you took a controversial position that angered or offended people and explain how you handled it.

5. How would you deal with a pro se party appearing in your court?

6. If you observed a party in your courtroom being poorly represented by an unprepared or ineffective lawyer, how would you handle the situation?

7. How would you prepare yourself to handle cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law?

8. Are you an experienced trial lawyer? If not, how will you be able to understand the practical problems and everyday pressures of the lawyers who appear before you in trial (such as uncooperative witnesses or unsophisticated clients)? If so, what qualities of a trial judge have given you the most problems, and how would you ensure that you won’t treat lawyers the same way, given the administrative pressures of your calendar and budgetary limitations?

9. Please describe your administrative experience. What are your primary strengths as a supervisor? As an administrator?

10. Do you believe you would encounter any problems moving from your role as an advocate to a new role as a judge?

11. While serving on the bench, do you believe you have a role in bringing important legal or judicial issues before the public or the legislature? Why or why not? What should your role be?

12. Is it appropriate to impose more restrictions on what cases go to trial? Is there a need for more mandatory mediation and settlement efforts? What specifically do you propose to do about this, if elected?

13. How do you feel about changing court rules to transfer more of the routine and less serious matters to court commissioners and private arbitrators?

14. What should be the role of private judging companies in the judicial system?

15. What is your general judicial philosophy?

16. What is your vision for the future of our judicial system? What changes would you advocate and why?

17. Do judges have an obligation to improve public understanding of the courts? If so, how should they carry out that obligation?

18. What are your views on whether the court, as a whole, deals effectively with racial and gender bias?

19. Would you favor or oppose a system in which all sentencing decisions were routinely reported in local newspapers, indexed by the name of the judge?

20. Would you be willing to act as a settlement judge? What are the pros and cons of alternative dispute resolution?

21. Do you think the court system is working or do you believe the civil or criminal justice system is breaking down?

22. What types of clients have you represented while you have been an attorney?

23. What are your views on the need for more diversity on the bench and the manner in which the court treats members of different races?

24. Why should voters support you rather than your opponent?

25. What were the most important cases you had as a lawyer and why did you take the position you did in those cases?

26. Why do you believe you received the ratings you received from the organizations which rated you for the position of judge? Why do you believe you received the evaluations you received from the organizations which rated you for your position on the bench? (incumbents only)

27. Do you possess any expertise in a field other than law?

28. To what extent do you believe that a judge should or should not defer to actions of a legislature?

29. What is your most significant contribution to thr legal profession?

30. The California Supreme Court has recently ruled on the constitutionality of a state law that banned same sex marriage in California. As a judge, how would you go about determining how to rule on this issue if it appeared before you in your courtroom?

31. Do you agree with the following statement? “The Florida Constitution recognizes a right to same sex marriage.”

32. In re: TW, 551 So. 2d 1186 (Fla. 1989), held that a Florida law requiring parental consent before a minor child can undergo an abortion surgery was unconstitutional under Art. I, Sec. 23 of the Florida Constitution. The Florida Supreme Court held that the challenged statute fails because it intrudes upon the privacy of the pregnant minor from conception to birth. The TW court also ruled that where parental rights over a minor child are concerned, neither the state’s interest in protecting a minor child nor the preservation of the family unit is sufficiently compelling under Florida law to override Florida’s privacy amendment. Do you agree with the Court’s ruling in In re: TW?

33. In Krischer v. McIver, 697 So. 2d 97 (Fla. 1997), the Florida Supreme Court held that a statute prohibiting assisted suicide did not violate Art. I, Sec. 23 (the Privacy Clause) of the Florida Constitution, because any asserted privacy interest in assisted suicide was outweighed by state’s compelling interests in preserving life, preventing suicide, and maintaining integrity of the medical profession. Do you agree with the court’s decision in Krischer?

34. Lofton v. Kearney, 157 F. Supp. 2d 1372 (Fla. 2001), held that a Florida law prohibiting homosexual adoption does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Do you agree with this holding?

35. Bush v. Holmes, 919 So. 2d 392 (Fla. 2006), held that Florida’s educational voucher program (the “Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program”) violated the Florida Constitution because it “diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Florida Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida’s children.” Do you agree with the reasoning of Bush v. Holmes?

36. In Delgado v. State, 776 So. 2d 233 (Fla. 2000), the Florida Supreme Court relied upon legal precedent in New York and other states and added the new element of “surreptitiously” to Florida’s statutory definition of burglary. At the time of the opinion, the text of the Florida’s Statute on burglary, Sec. 810.02(1), F.S., (1989), did not contain the term “surreptitiously” in its definition: Entering or remaining in a structure or a conveyance with the intent to commit an offense therein, unless the premises are at the time open to the public or the defendant is licensed or invited to enter or remain. Subsequently, the Legislature had to specifically nullify this Supreme Court opinion. Do you agree with the court’s addition of the required element of “surreptitiously” to Florida’s burglary statute in this case?

37. What steps would you, as an elected judge, take to maintain your independence from campaign contributors and special interest groups? Do you impose any limits beyond those required by law on contributions?

38. Florida currently has a mixed system of selecting judges. Most are elected by voters, and some are appointed to fill vacancies. Is this the best way to select judges and to ensure the highest quality judiciary? Are there specific reforms in the judicial selection process that you would like to see? What are the pros and cons of merit selection of judges versus election? Should sitting judges run for re-election rather than retention?

39. What would you say to a frustrated voter faced with a ballot with dozens of judicial candidates, almost all of whom are unknown to the voter, about how to cast an informed ballot?

40. Has the recent Supreme Court decision on the First Amendment rights of judicial candidates altered your views on and/or approach to “campaigning” for judicial office?

41. In close cases, judges (particularly appellate judges) often have choices to make as to the direction in which they believe the law should go. In those circumstances, some of the greatest judges have been activists, others have practiced restraint, and others have followed no particular philosophy about the place of the judiciary in our system of separate branches sharing power. Which of these approaches/philosophies best captures your views of the proper role of judges in society?

42. It is often said that because the judiciary neither commands the sword nor the purse, its power and legitimacy rest on the persuasiveness of its opinions. Yet a large number of cases — even cases worth large sums of money and presenting significant and/or novel legal issues — are resolved in the Circuit Courts of Florida through the issuance of one line orders that fail to give even an inkling of the Court’s reasoning. Do you see this as a problem for the judiciary? If so, do you have any ideas on how to remedy the problem? How should orders – particularly those subject to appeal – be written? As a prospective circuit/county judge, do you believe the parties are entitled to the basis of your ruling including the findings of fact and your application of the law to those findings of fact? Please offer your thoughts.

43. Recently proponents of “Sunshine in Litigation” have gotten the Florida Legislature to pass a law, Sec. 69.081, F.S., to eliminate or severely restrict the judicial entry of protective orders in litigation between private parties involving products that may be considered dangerous to the public. Opponents of these efforts argue that protective orders are necessary to ensure privacy, protect trade secrets and foster settlements. What is your view of the role which protective orders serve in the efficient resolution of private litigation? Do you agree that judges should have broad discretion to enter such orders when appropriate? How would you respond to each side of the debate?

44. Are there civil litigation reforms that you would like to see enacted to remedy particular problems that you have detected, either as a practicing lawyer or as a sitting judge? Are there reforms that would benefit the civil justice system? What needs to be changed? Should the enactment of any such changes be the province of the legislature, the Supreme Court or by Constitutional amendment?

45. Do you feel that our judicial system adequately deters and penalizes frivolous litigation? If not, what reforms would you like to see?

46. Do you believe the Florida Constitution precludes legislative establishment of limitations on civil damages? Are there or should there be distinctions among economic, non-economic and punitive damages?

References:

Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002)
American Civil Liberties Union v. The Florida Bar, 999 F.2d 1486 (11th Cir. 1993)
In re Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77 (Fla. 2003)
In re Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997)
In re Code of Judicial Conduct, 643 So. 2d 1037 (Fla. 1994)
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 3B(9), 4B and 7A(3)(d)(i)
Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinions, 94-34, 94-35, 02-13, 02-16 and 06-18

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Written by Hon. William Burgess

May 29, 2008 at 12:14 am

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