Wellington Village Councilman Howard Coates has been appointed as a judge on the 15th Judicial Circuit Court bench serving Palm Beach County.
“I was just notified today that Gov. Rick Scott appointed me, along with two other individuals, to the vacancies,” Coates told the Town-Crier on Tuesday. “There were three initial vacancies at the 15th Judicial Circuit Court.”
The other newly appointed judges are Edward Artau, general counsel for the South Florida Water Management District, and Kurt Volker, who is an assistant state attorney.
“I put in an application because I did want an appointment, but you never really know until you get the call as to whether it’s going to happen,” Coates said. “It’s a very competitive process. There were 53 people who originally applied for the three spots, and then they narrowed it down to 15, and then the governor picked three candidates out of the 15 that were submitted to him.”
Coates will be required to resign from the Wellington Village Council because he can’t serve in two elected positions in Florida.
Coates has often found himself in the minority on council questions, especially as they pertain to equestrian issues since Mayor Bob Margolis and Vice Mayor John Greene were elected to the council in 2012.
Coates said he regrets leaving a divided council, opening the door for the current council majority to appoint his replacement, but the judgeship fits in with his personal aspirations.
“The only position I would even consider leaving the council for is something that is in my career path, which being a judge is,” he said. “I’m a litigator, and being a judge is part of that process… I felt the timing was right for me to make an application, but I do have concerns about the village, and I’m hopeful that my leaving the council won’t mean a call for further division. I’ve seen a lot of uniting over the last 18 months, and I’m hopeful that we will see that trend continue.”
Coates said he did not know what the mind-set will be among his fellow, soon-to-be-former, council colleagues. “I won’t have any involvement or say, but hopefully it will go reasonably well for the village,” he said.
Coates is a 1986 Yale Law School graduate and was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of Florida in 1982. He also earned a master’s degree in business administration from Florida Atlantic University in 2001. He has practiced law in Palm Beach County for nearly 30 years and is a longtime resident of the area.
Coates has served on the council for six years, initially acquiring a seat through an appointment to fill a vacancy. He had previously run unsuccessfully for the council. He also made an unsuccessful run for state representative on the Republican line in 2008.
The judge’s appointment is for one year, whereupon Coates will have to run for re-election, if he is challenged. He will also have to wrap up his day job as an attorney.
“Being a judge is a full-time position, so you really cease practicing as an attorney and become a judge,” Coates said. “It’s an all-in position.”
However, Coates feels that he is up to the challenge. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s a natural progression of my career and what I do as an attorney.”
ABOVE: Wellington Councilman Howard Coates.