Q&A with county court judicial candidates

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Posted July 29, 2022 |

Editor’s Note: Leading up to the 2022 primary and general elections, we’ll be asking candidates to weigh in regularly on a question related to the office they seek. The candidates are given almost a week to respond to the questions in writing.  We ask that the candidates keep their answers under 250 words, and we do not edit them at all.

Question: What lead you to the field of law?

Seat 1

LeAnn Barnes

My passion for the law began in Mr. Philbrook’s Law Studies Class.

Mr. Philbrook was one of my teachers at North Marion High School. He was not only an amazing teacher but he was also a University of Florida graduate and the first lawyer I had ever met. His class intrigued my interest because of the passion he showed for the law, along with his unique style of teaching and dress attire, as he always loved to wear these unique Hawaiian style button up Florida Gator shirts. His teachings not only gave me a better understanding of the law and my constitutional rights, but it also gave me a chance to learn life lessons, to develop critical thinking skills and a chance to analyze and debate topics we could all relate to. He also taught us strategic study skills that I continued to use throughout my college career. Anything double underlined was important! Although Mr. Philbrook had a reputation for being a tough teacher, I believe his toughness and stern style of teaching prepared me for what I had to handle as a law student and now as a lawyer.

Danielle Ruse

My family led me to the field of law. We were raised listening to CLE cassettes on the way to school, so when it came time to choose a career it was an easy decision.

Renee Thompson

My interest in the law comes from many sources. As a child, I remember taking special interest in the critical role lawyers, judges, and the courtroom play in society – which came mostly from television and was probably somewhat exaggerated. The rule of law and the concept of seeking justice in a fair and neutral forum was fascinating to me. However, the process appeared somewhat intimidating in my youth as I did not know any lawyers or judges and had not met a female attorney, being raised by parents who were both in education.

During my college freshman year, my parents were hit by a driver under the influence of alcohol who fled the scene. By the grace of God their lives were spared. A lawyer helped them attain compensation for their medical bills and demolished vehicle. It was comforting to have someone advocate for them and help my family seek a remedy for their losses.

Often the media portrays the law as oppositional in nature. but it can be cooperative. In reality, trial is the last option and not the way the vast majority of cases are resolved. Trial is time consuming, expensive and nerve-racking for the litigants. I began to better understand and appreciate the role of the legal system – to help seek the truth and resolve disputes, which renewed my interest because I am a problem solver by nature. This coupled with a strong desire to help others led me to pursue a career in law.

Seat 2

Lori Cotton

My earliest career aspirations included veterinarian, astronaut, and professional musician. However, I was drawn to a career that involved helping others. My parents emphasized hard work, education and patriotism. They raised me to know I have an obligation to make my community a better place. Those values remain with me today.

In college, I aspired to work for the government, and I began as a political science major, changing to history, knowing that law school was my next goal. In law school, I knew that I wanted to be a prosecutor…the white knight, the one who protects the community and ensures justice. As an Assistant State Attorney, I loved that part of my job description was to simply do what was right, and I was proud to fight for victims and to do what I could to make our community safer.

As a judge, I still get to help the community; I just do it from a different seat in the courtroom. It falls on my shoulders to make sure that the Constitution and the laws are being followed. It is my responsibility to provide justice by ensuring access to the courts and fully listening to everyone who comes before me.

The little Lori who dreamed of being an astronaut might have been surprised to see me where I am now! But here I am, and I truly believe that I am where I am meant to be…serving the community.


William Harris

While on the campaign trail, I have advised potential voters of the farming history of my family.  As was the case with many families from yesteryear, people in Marion County worked the land.  My maternal grandmother, Ollie Colden Gary, was born in farmhouse in 1906 in the Lowell community near Reddick, Florida and had 12 siblings.  She began teaching in the segregated schools of Marion County in the mid-1930’s and retired in 1976.  As a child, she expected us to complete assigned chores and always emphasized the importance of education and personal accountability.  Those early lessons of hard work and respect for education took root and shaped how I perceived the world and any injustice within it.  As I grew older, I developed a close relationship with several of my grandmother’s siblings who would discuss their experiences of being barred from opportunities due to racial barriers.  Roscoe Colden, born in 1908, worked in the citrus groves of Lake County well into his 70’s.  When visiting family, he would bring bags of grapefruit, tangerines and navel oranges and ALWAYS emphasized doing well in school despite him never having the opportunity to receive an education.  Malquiese Mac Colden, born in 1915, would become a business owner in Miami, Florida and returned to Lowell in the late 1970’s.  He was an incredibly hard working man and would discuss the problem of racial obstacles that confronted him as a young man despite his best efforts.  In spite of these circumstances, he instilled in me the importance of working hard despite your individual circumstances to accomplish a goal.  The conversations and lessons learned from these venerable family members encouraged me to set my sights on attending law school with the desire to help people within this society that want to better themselves.