Nominees chosen for county judge seat

Home » Government
Posted April 2, 2021 | By Carlos Medina |

A judicial nominating commission on Tuesday sent the Governor’s office four nominees to fill the seat of retiring Marion County Judge Sarah Ritterhoff Williams.

The nominees came from a dozen applications reviewed by the nine-member Fifth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission includes Robert Batsel, Vanessa Thomas, Anita Carver, Charles K Ruse Jr., Jennifer Rey, Zachary McCormick, Matthew Foreman, Janice Dahl and Shanta Matthews.

Those nominated include, Lori Cotton, William Harris, Barbara Kissner Kwatkosky and LeAnn Mackey-Barnes.

A closer look at the nominees:

  • Lori Lee Cotton, 48, is an assistant state attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit in Marion County. She joined the state attorney’s office in 2001, the same year she passed the bar. She currently serves on the special prosecutions unit. She earned her juris doctorate from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2001. She is a graduate of the Ohio State University with a bachelor’s in history.
  • William Arnold Harris, 46, is an assistant county attorney for Marion County. He joined the county in 2020 after a year in private practice. From 2006 to 2019 he was an assistant state attorney in Marion. Harris earned his JD from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law in 2001. He was born in Gainesville and he graduated from Lake Weir High School.
  • Barbara Kissner Kwatkosky, 56, is a general magistrate for the Fifth Judicial Circuit where she hears domestic relations and mental health cases. She took that role in 2016 after serving for 10 years as a judicial hearing officer in the circuit. She also served as senior staff attorney for the circuit from 2004 to 2006. She graduated with a law degree from the University of Florida.
  • LeAnn Mackey-Barnes, 45, is the chief public defender for the 5th Circuit Public Defender’s Office in Marion County. She supervises 24 attorneys in the office and handles felony, misdemeanor and juvenile cases among others. She earned her law degree from the University of Florida, where she also earned bachelor’s degrees in criminology and sociology in 1997.   She also spent time as a teacher.

The others who applied included Danielle Ruse, Katie Curham, Toby Hunt, Linda Blackburn, Michael Robertson, James Moody, Mark Loerzel and Renee Thompson.

While the county judge seat is non-partisan, judicial nominations can become politically charged. The commission’s choices included two Republicans and two Democrats. Gov. Ron DeSantis is a Republican.

Ritterhoff Williams announced her retirement in late January citing the increased caseload, the job’s growing reliance on technology and the backlog of cases due in part to COVID-19.

In her letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Ritterhoff Williams said she will retire effective midnight May 14.

Ritterhoff Williams, 61, was first elected to the post in 2006. She was reelected in 2018 to her third consecutive six-year term.

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