Going into election season, voters were scheduled to elect two circuit judges this month.
But the withdrawal of one candidate for the Group 2 position due to campaign finance issues left Michelle Pincket unopposed for that post. She impressed our editorial board, and we believe she will be a good judge.
The remaining judicial race on the ballot is between Taylor Davidson and Larry Helms for the Group 16 judgeship.
Evaluating judicial candidates presents a special challenge. Most lawyers with the ability to get through law school and a few years of practice exhibit knowledge of the law, and it is the nature of their profession to be persuasive advocates.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that they are limited in what they can say in their campaigns. Beyond pledging “fair and impartial” administration of justice, there’s not a whole lot they can promise as to their performance if elected. And we cannot remember a candidate who ever ran on a platform of prejudice and bias.
Much of the decision, in our opinion, boils down to the quality and quantity of their legal experience, and the opinions of peers who are willing to give us an off-the-record appraisal of their abilities.
We also discuss in depth with each candidate the issue of judicial temperament.
Judges have a great deal of power and operate with minimal oversight. It is easy for them to become hyper-impressed with their own importance. Lawyers call it “robe-itis.”
Both candidates in this race have substantial experience, and both are candid in acknowledging the need for a judge to remain respectful of the parties who come before his (or her) judicial bench.
Taylor Davidson has 27 years of practice, and boasts of his board certification in the areas of workers compensation and civil trial practice.
He calls himself “a trial specialist.”
He says a judge must “know the law and control the courtroom,” while showing respect to all parties.
He describes himself as “even tempered, slow to anger,” but “quick to cut off shenanigans.”
Larry Helms has practiced law for 39 years, of which 38 have been in Polk County. He has tried cases in 16 of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits, and in federal courtrooms in Tampa, Orlando, Ocala, and Jacksonville.
He has argued cases before two of Florida’s District Courts of Appeal and the Florida Supreme Court.
He boasts of experience in civil and criminal practice, probate, family law, and juvenile justice, which are the five divisions of circuit court.
He is candid and direct on the issue of judicial temperament:
“You can get away with rudeness and arrogance because you are the judge. It damages respect for the judicial system for the judge to think the trial is about him. Being a judge is about customer service.”
Both candidates make good impressions; both have support from their peers.
Based on his wealth of experience and his forcefulness on the issue of judicial temperament, this newspaper recommends the election of Larry Helms.