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No vote on Levy County Judge; ditto on one circuit judgeship

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Levy County voters will not get to vote this year on two of Gov. Charlie Crist's judicial appointments.

That is because Article V, Section 11 (b) of the Florida State Constitution says appointees to vacancies will not have to stand for election for at least one year after their appointment.

Supervisor of Elections Connie Asbell learned on Monday from the Governor's Office that James T. Browning, who replaced Levy County Judge Joseph Smith, and Mary Day Coker, who replaced 8th Judicial Circuit Judge Stan R. Morris will not be on the ballot even though Smith and Morris' seats would have been on the ballot.

The two appointees will remain in office pending the outcome of the 2012 election.

A third 8th Circuit judicial appointee, Victor Hulslander, who replaced Frederick Smith, will stand for election at the end of  the unexpired term in 2014.

Asbell learned about the extended terms after contacting the governor's office on Monday in response to questions from voters.

“I called the governor's office and spoke to the appointments office, and according to Article 5 they have to serve at least a year,” she  said.

“That is just not fair.  We've been bombarded with people who want to run for two commissioners' seats and they can't.  And now when they hear about the judge seats they are going to be angry.”

She said there will not be a vote in 2011 because, “They don't call special elections for that.”

 Asbell is not happy with the governor's office.

“What's been so aggravating is that when they make the appointments if they would give us the paperwork. What we know is what we have called and asked them for,” she said.

The Levy County Commission seats Asbell referred to are the ones held by Crist appointees Marsha Drew and Chad Johnson. They were appointed by Crist after he suspended Commissioners Sammy Yearty and Tony Parker because of their indictment on federal political corruption charges. The two have been convicted but their seats cannot be vacated until all appeals are exhausted and the state Senate removes them from office.

In addition, new assignments have come out for the 8th Judicial Circuit judges, who rotate between positions on the court. They are effective from Feb. 1 to Dec. 31.

Coker will not take over Morris' duties in Levy County criminal court, instead hearing family court cases in Alachua.

Circuit Judge David A. Glant, administrative judge for the circuit's criminal division, will assume Morris' duties.

Glant was Levy County civil and family court judge until July 1, 2009, when he moved over to the administrative position.

Hulslander will hear civil cases in Alachua County.

The vacancies created by the appointments of Coker and Hulslander will be filled by Crist. Those appointments are of some importance in Levy County as the Alachua judges hold first appearance hearings — where bond is set or denied within 24 hours of a person's incarceration — when the Levy County Judge is unavailable.