The nine candidates vying for three seats on Palm Beach County’s 15th Judicial Circuit Court were pared down to six during the primary election. The Nov. 6 general election pits the top two vote-getters from the primary election against each other in the races for the Group 13, Group 18 and Group 25 seats.
The Town-Crier reached out to all six candidates seeking the six-year, non-partisan terms and asked them to describe their background, why they are running and why voters should choose them.
Scott Ryan Kerner and Alcolya J.L. St. Juste were the top two vote-getters in the race to replace retiring Judge David French in Group 13.
With 41 percent of the vote, Kerner came in first during the primary.
“I am running for circuit court judge because I believe in seeking the truth, pursuing justice and serving our community,” Kerner said.
Born and raised in Palm Beach County, Kerner is the brother of Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner.
“I am very passionate about this community. I have more than 10 years of litigation and trial experience in our Palm Beach County court system,” Kerner said. “As a civil trial attorney, I focus on complex litigation matters and ensure that the rights of individuals are protected and everyone is treated fairly.”
Kerner explained that this experience will help him on the bench. “I understand how a courtroom works, how cases are heard efficiently, and how to ensure impartiality and the rule of law are upheld,” he said. “My trial and litigation experience distinguish me from my opponent and will allow me to serve effectively on the bench from day one.”
Kerner noted that he has received endorsements from several entities.
“I am proud to be endorsed by a wide range of organizations and leaders in our community, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the PBC Police Benevolent Association, the Professional Firefighters and Paramedics of Palm Beach County, the Classroom Teachers Association, the Palm Beach County AFL-CIO, State Attorney Dave Aronberg and many others.”
Learn more at www.kernerforjudge.com.
With 38 percent of the vote, St. Juste finished second in the primary.
“As a third generation Palm Beach County native, the community is important to me,” she said. “My upbringing and experience have led me to a desire to be a public servant.”
St. Juste also believes that she has the right experience. “My experience as a civil litigation attorney has provided me with the understanding of the complex needs of the circuit court,” she said. “I have an understanding of the law and the application of the law. I have also written an article which was previously published in the ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law.”
St. Juste noted that she has been vetted by the Judicial Nominating Commission and selected for consideration for appointment to the bench.
“In addition to being nominated by the Judicial Nominating Commission, I have practiced law as a litigator for more than 14 years, and I have handled more than 200 trials and evidentiary hearings as lead or solo counsel,” St. Juste said.
St. Juste noted other qualifications as well. “My experience as a special magistrate presiding over code enforcement hearings has prepared me to show patience with the community to allow each individual the opportunity to present their case, and to preside over matters with patience, attentiveness and respect,” she said. “These unique qualifications lend to your understanding of the circuit court and its needs.”
Learn more at www.votestjuste.com.
In Group 18, Maxine Cheesman and Marybel Reinoso Coleman are the remaining candidates vying to replace retiring Judge Peter Blanc.
Taking 41 percent, Cheesman was the top vote-getter in the primary.
“As a 23-year resident of Palm Beach County and an attorney in good standing for more than 13 years, I have the temperament, qualifications and experience to serve as a circuit court judge,” she said. “In my private practice, I litigate in the circuit court in the areas of real property, fair housing, bankruptcy, foreclosure, probate, employment, family, contract and construction law. I have both jury and bench trial experience and have represented both plaintiffs and defendants.”
Cheesman’s career before the law gives her a unique qualification, she said.
“I also have 27 years of experience as a scientist, chemist, hydrogeologist and former division director with the South Florida Water Management District, where I was responsible for up to 75 employees and managed multi-million-dollar budgets,” Cheesman said. “My legal, scientific and environmental background makes me uniquely qualified to preside over a variety of cases involving complex scientific and environmental issues, like the Ag Reserve, the algae crisis and water quality — cases which come before the circuit court.”
Cheesman also noted her long history of community service. “In 2012, I was awarded the ‘And Justice for All’ pro-bono award by the Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society. I ask for your vote to continue my public service to the citizens of Palm Beach County as your circuit court judge,” Cheesman said.
Learn more at www.cheesmanforjudge.com.
Coleman, who garnered 32 percent of the vote in the primary election, said she is running for circuit court judge because she has a passion for the laws and freedoms provided under the U.S. Constitution.
“My family and I immigrated from Cuba in 1971 so that we would have a life of opportunity,” she said. “I believe our judiciary is crucial in preserving our most fundamental rights, and I have geared my career toward this ultimate public service.”
Coleman has been an attorney for 25 years.
“Having started my career as an assistant state attorney in Palm Beach County, I have tried approximately 200 jury and non-jury trials,” she said. “I know what is important to the attorneys, the litigants and the judges so that justice is provided expeditiously, efficiently and respectfully by a fair and unbiased judge.”
Coleman feels that her experience is well-suited for the bench.
“Voters should choose me over my opponent because I have 25 years of courtroom experience in all five of the circuit court divisions,” she said. “Additionally, I have been vetted and nominated twice within the last 10 months by the Judicial Nominating Commission for a circuit court gubernatorial appointment, and once for a county court appointment, which means that my peers and judges whom I have appeared before believe that I am qualified to serve as a circuit court judge.”
Learn more at www.votemarybel.com.
In Group 25, the remaining candidates in the race to replace retiring Judge Catherine Brunson are Sarah Willis and Michael McAuliffe.
Willis garnered 40 percent of the vote to come in first during the primary.
“As a seasoned attorney and litigator, I have the qualifications and experience to serve as your circuit court judge,” Willis said. “I have spent my career in the courtroom, where I have litigated 89 jury trials and presided over hundreds of bench trials and final hearings. I have been committed to following the law, applying it fairly, and ensuring that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”
As an assistant state attorney in the Special Victims Unit, Willis handled complex, high-profile criminal cases involving capital sexual battery, rape, homicide, child pornography, child molestation and aggravated child abuse.
“As an assistant statewide prosecutor for the Florida Attorney General, I also handled complex multi-jurisdictional criminal cases involving organized crime, murder, money laundering and child pornography,” Willis noted. “Recently, as a general magistrate and child support hearing officer for the 15th Judicial Circuit, I presided over hundreds of circuit court cases involving post-judgment family issues, including child support, establishment of paternity, alimony and mental health issues.”
Willis said that her background qualifies her for the job.
“I have demonstrated my dedication and passion for public service throughout my career,” she said. “Having served as an advocate for the community and a fair and impartial finder of fact, I am uniquely qualified to serve as a circuit court judge.”
Learn more at www.electsarahwillis.com.
McAuliffe took 34 percent of the vote to finish second in the primary.
“I have worked for 29 years as a trial lawyer, including as a federal prosecutor successfully prosecuting the leader of the Louisiana Ku Klux Klan and 13 other klansmen,” he said.
He described his varied experience and background.
“I have served as the elected state attorney in Palm Beach County, leading 125 lawyers in court, as a prosecutor, a law firm partner and as a company general counsel,” McAuliffe said. “I have taught law at Duke University (winter session) and the George Washington University Law School, and most recently at the Honors College at FAU. These diverse experiences provide a unique background that prepares me to serve as a judge.”
McAuliffe added that he is grateful to have a broad base of support, including endorsements from a number of local organizations, such as the National Organization for Women Florida PAC, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Voters Alliance, the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, the Fraternal Order of Police (Florida Lodge) and the Palm Beach Medical Society’s MEDPAC.
“I also want to be a strong example to my three children as someone who serves others,” he said. “I seek a judgeship to help preserve the rule of law and to protect the rights of the weak and the powerful to be heard on equal terms.”
Learn more at www.mcauliffeforjudge.com.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher continues to remind all citizens to get out and vote. “The right to vote is one of the most fundamental liberties we enjoy as Americans, and it is also one of our greatest civic responsibilities,” she said, urging all registered voters to cast their ballots this fall.