Q&A with the county court judicial candidates

The Marion County Judicial Center is shown in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted July 21, 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: When it comes to evaluating a judicial candidate’s qualifications what do you think the public should factor in their decision?

Seat 1

LeAnn Barnes

The qualifications the public should consider are the candidate’s experience, temperament and community involvement.

I began my career teaching special education. I left teaching to pursue my dream of becoming an attorney, receiving a Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida in 2002. I have been practicing law for two decades.

I have handled felony, misdemeanor and juvenile criminal cases, from driving under the influence to juvenile murder, as well as contempt proceedings (truancy, injunctions dependency), Baker Acts, Marchman Acts, and a civil small claims case.

I am the Chief Attorney managing the second-largest law office in Marion County, earning a reputation of being calm and even-keeled. Over the past eighteen years, I trained and supervised hundreds of attorneys in the practice of law. I have had the opportunity to practice in front of almost every judge in Marion County and helped to established Marion County’s Veterans Treatment Court and Mental Health Court.

I have a passion for the law and my community and have been serving Marion County since I was a young Girl Scout. I am a former volunteer judge for Teen Court, a board member for Pace Center for Girls, a member of Kiwanis Club of Ocala, Chairman for the FHSAA Appeals Committee and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I am also a recipient of the Richard Custureri Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award.

I believe my experience, my temperament and my service to this community make me the perfect choice for this position.

Danielle Ruse

The public should consider the candidates experience in a courtroom as well as their personal knowledge of the law and rules needed to handle all types of cases in front of the Court.

Renee Thompson

All judges must possess the right blend of experience and integrity, to properly and fairly apply the law while upholding our constitutional rights. Consequently, any judicial candidate should be closely scrutinized as to education, experience and reputation.

However, the public should not only consider the candidate, but the position; the seat I seek will be assigned to a civil docket for the next three years. Civil practice in county and circuit courts can be quite different, with more people appearing before the county court, often without an attorney. Without counsel, parties can become frustrated with legal process and a county court judge must be patient and possess the right temperament to effectively communicate and explain the law; when people understand the basics of the law and legal procedure, they are better equipped to seek justice and be satisfied with the results. I am proud of my extensive background in teaching the law, not only to law students, but to lawyers and judges.

Additionally, efficiency is critical to the smooth operation of the county court. In criminal court, the right to a speedy trial keeps cases moving quickly, and civil dockets will see more cases than ever before due to recent statutory changes, so a judge must keep cases moving fairly but expeditiously. A thorough understanding of technology and case management systems will be necessary to process the coming flood of cases while providing fairness and justice, and my background in legal technology would serve me well.

Seat 2

Lori Cotton

A good judge follows the law, is hard-working, fair, compassionate and knowledgeable.

  1. My experience tells you I will follow the law.

I was a prosecutor for 20 years, so I have a history of enforcing the law and following rules. The Governor appointed me because he believes I will follow the law.

  1. My experience tells you I am hard-working.

At the State Attorney’s Office, I tried 140 jury trials. I advanced through the organization and was entrusted with complex and sensitive legal matters, supervision, training and hiring.

As a judge, I make decisions expeditiously and implement them. My docket has been reduced by 30% in a year through hard work.

  1. My experience tells you I am fair.

I do not favor one party over another. I am mindful of the Constitution and individual rights. I listen to both sides before making a decision. My demeanor on the bench balances firmness with compassion.

  1. My experience tells you I am compassionate.

I am a Christian, mother of three, wife, homeless advocate, and the mom of an alcoholic child. My life experiences guide my decisions on the bench.

  1. My experience tells you I am knowledgeable.

I have handled complex legal matters. I know the law and the rules of evidence and procedure, so I am able to make good decisions and run efficient dockets.

I am already serving as a Judge, so you can come see for yourself why experience matters in Courtroom 2E

William Harris

I believe a number of factors should weigh heavily in the public’s evaluation of a judicial candidate. Many prospective voters have become justifiably jaded and suspicious of the electoral process in general due to being told what they want to hear by candidates and not being presented with an authentic version of the candidate. I have and will continue to present the most accurate measure of myself. Accountability for one’s actions is probably the greatest expectation the public has of any judicial candidate. I have always believed in being responsible for my actions to my community. My private sector experience representing clients permitted me to hold people accountable when they inflicted catastrophic injury to another. As a prosecutor, I ensured that criminal offenders were held accountable when their conduct harmed the community. The judicial candidate’s reputation, work history, and track record of civic engagement is far more revealing of someone’s true character than a couple of months of pictures on social media or words said to an assembly.