Longtime prosecutor appointed to judge seat

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Posted May 21, 2021 | By Ainslie Lee, ainslie@ocalastyle.com


Five days after Sarah Ritterhoff Williams’ officially vacated her seat as Marion County judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Ocala’s Lori Cotton as her replacement.

Ritterhoff Williams, who in January announced her plans to retire, officially left her post on the Marion County bench on May 14. 

On Wednesday, Cotton’s new post became official. She started he career as an assistant state attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit in 2001. The circuit is made up of Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter Counties, with the main office in Ocala. 

Cotton moved to Ocala in 1997 and has called the area home ever since. 

“I am not native to Ocala,” Cotton said. “But it’s definitely my adopted home. And I love Ocala. I raised all of my children here, and we really like it.”

And while some who enter the judicial field aspire to one day serve on the bench, Cotton said that wasn’t the case for her. 

“I would not say this has always been my goal,” Cotton said. “I would say this is more of an opportunity arose, and as I considered my career, it seemed like a really, really good time to make the move.”

Just last week Cotton celebrated her 20-year anniversary with the state attorney’s office, she said. For the last seven years, she served as the office’s training director, which allowed her to gain experience in teaching new lawyers.

According to the governor’s office, Cotton had a hand in training more than 100 assistant state attorneys, all while prosecuting her own cases. 

“I’m sad to leave where I am because I love my job,” Cotton said. “I absolutely love what I do. But I am excited to help people in a different way.”

Cotton will assume Ritterhoff Williams’ post, which runs through 2024. After that, Cotton’s position is subject to a retention vote, where, if elected, she will serve six-year terms. 

Cotton earned her law degree from the University of Florida College of Law and her bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University, the governor’s office said. 

Ritterhoff Williams first took the seat in 2006. And while she still had three years left in her term, she cited a backlog in court cases and the growing reliance on technology for her decision to retire.

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