Brevard judge candidates vying for county and circuit seats
Three court races appear on the Brevard County primary ballot on August 23, and all registered voters can choose from among the seven candidates in these nonpartisan races.
Circuit Court judges serve six-year terms and earn an annual salary of $146,080, while county judges serve six-year terms with an annual salary of $138,020.
On Monday, the seven candidates participated in a nonpartisan court forum hosted by the North Brevard Democratic Club at Dixie Crossroads in Titusville.
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Club President Cathy Riley opened the event by telling the audience that the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct circumscribes what candidates are allowed to say in such a forum.
“For example, they’re not allowed to tell you what political party they’re a member of, if any,” Riley said.
“They are not permitted to make any pledges, promises or undertakings on any matters or cases that may come before them,” she said.
“They are not allowed to answer political questions,” she said.
The Circuit Court has jurisdiction over criminal crimes and civil matters involving more than $30,000. The Circuit Court also has general original jurisdiction over matters not assigned by statute to the county court, as well as to hear appeals of county court cases.
The county court has jurisdiction over torts, traffic violations, and civil matters in disputes involving less than $30,000.
The contestants were interviewed by FLORIDA TODAY editor John Torres; Sonya Mallard, cultural center coordinator at the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex and first vice president of the North Brevard Chapter of the NAACP; and Jessica Travis, lawyer and member of the Space Coast League of Women Voters. The club broadcast the forum live on Facebook.
Group 3 Circuit Court Judge
All registered voters in Brevard and Seminole counties can vote in this 18th Judicial Circuit race between John Mannion and incumbent Jessica Recksiedler.
Mannion worked as a programmer analyst for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, then worked as a project manager for The Coca-Cola Co., according to his campaign website.
After leaving the private sector, he worked as an assistant prosecutor from 2003 to 2016 before launching his private practice, Mannion Law.
“I sat in jail cells with people wrongly accused of crimes. And their lives are torn apart. I believe I bring that kind of commitment to justice to Seminole and Brevard counties. I bring integrity. And I bring experience,” Mannion said during the forum.
Recksiedler was elected chief judge of the 18th Judicial Circuit last year. She began her career in the Attorney General’s Office. Subsequently, she joined two firms, Killgore Pearlman and Thompson, Recksiedler and Evangelo, according to his campaign website.
She was elected a Circuit Judge in 2010 and served as an administrative judge for the Criminal Division, Civil Division and Appeals Division.
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“I’m a board-certified civil attorney and expert in civil jury trials by the Florida Bar. Out of 109,000 attorneys in the state of Florida, only about 120 women in the state have that distinction. And I am one of them,” Recksiedler said during the forum.
Recksiedler is endorsed by a list of Space Coast officials, including Sheriff Wayne Ivey and State’s Attorney Phil Archer, as well as Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma.
Mannion said he did not seek endorsement from any elected official.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate in a legal race,” he told the forum.
While raising campaign funds, Recksiedler reported $132,089 in contributions, including $56,630 in loans from herself and $3,741 in in-kind donations as of July 15, according to Florida Division of Elections. She had spent $26,421 by that date.
Mannion declared $18,160 in contributions, including $10,010 in loans from him and $220 in in-kind donations as of July 15, according to Florida Division of Elections records. He had spent $22,278 by that date.
Group 2 County Court Judge
The County Judge Group 2 race includes David Baker and starter Kelly Ingram.
Baker served in the U.S. Army for 10 years and the Florida National Guard for 10 years, retiring as a first sergeant, according to his campaign website.
He worked for the Cocoa Police Department for over 15 years, serving as a police officer, SWAT officer, detective and sergeant. He now has a private law practice in Rockledge.
“I think my basic experience would be very useful as a judge. I’ve done everything from work on the streets, on the SWAT team, I’ve been a lawyer in court. I was the sergeant: I’ve read thousands of reports over the years,” Baker told the forum.
Ingram worked as an assistant state attorney before working in private practice as a defense attorney, according to his campaign website.
She was elected a judge in 2016. Last year, her colleagues elected her as a departmental administrative judge. This month, they selected her as the 18th Judicial Circuit representative for the Florida County Court Judges Conference.
State’s Attorney Phil Archer has approved Ingram’s re-election, his website says.
Baker is endorsed by Mallard, one of the forum panelists.
“What I hear most often from defendants in jail, litigants in my courtroom: They may not be happy with my ruling, but they still say I’m very fair and respectable. And I treat everyone with respect and dignity,” Ingram said during the forum.
In campaign fundraising, Ingram has reported contributions of $218,632 as of July 15, according to Voter Focus records. Of this amount, contributions and loans from herself in April totaled $206,265. She declared $792 in in-kind contributions and she had spent $42,687 as of July 15.
Baker reported $25,250 in contributions as of July 15, including $18,000 in loans from her, according to Voter Focus. He declared $1,295 in in-kind contributions and expenses of $19,033 to date.
Group 4 County Court Judge
The County Court Judge Group 4 race includes Rodney Edwards, Kimberly Musselman and Renee Torpy. If no candidate obtains more than 50% of the vote, the first two voters will move on to a second round on November 8.
The incumbent, County Judge Rhonda Babb, is not running for re-election.
A US Marine Corps veteran, Edwards worked for the Muller & Sommerville law firm in Winter Park before opening his private practice in 2010. He also worked for the Orlando Police Department’s office of legal counsel.
He has served as an Assistant City Attorney for Palm Bay since 2017, focusing on government law, tort defense, real estate litigation, and civil litigation.
“A judge is not there to try to legislate from the bench or create laws. He is there to listen to the facts and apply the facts to the law and then make a fair, just and unbiased decision. You must be fair and impartial. You must listen. And then you have to have compassion,” Edwards said during the forum.
Edwards is endorsed by 2020 Sheriff Brevard nominee Alton Edmond and Palm Bay City Council members Donny Felix and Randy Foster, among others. according to his campaign website.
Musselman has worked in the justice system for over 30 years as an investigator, probation officer, court clerk and prosecutor, according to his campaign website.
She has worked as an assistant district attorney since 2004, where she now works in crime admissions, reviewing cases submitted by law enforcement for filing of decisions.
“I make tough decisions every day. Every day. The background of the cases: I have to look at them and make a really tough decision, and pass that information on to the victim, the lawyers and law enforcement who send the cases to us. I am a seeker of truth,” Musselman said at the forum.
Musselman is endorsed by State’s Attorney Phil Archer, Brevard County Clerk Rachel Sadoff and former Clerk of the Courts Scott Ellis, among others.
Torpy began her legal career as an assistant public defender, then transferred to become an assistant prosecutor, according to his campaign website.
In 2020, she became a protective court attorney with Serene Harbor, a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Palm Bay. She focuses on victims of domestic violence, dating, sexual violence and harassment.
“I think compassion is the No. 1 quality a judge needs. Even though it may be a typical Tuesday or Thursday for lawyers in the courtroom or for judges, it can change that person’s entire life. If they are convicted of a crime, will that prevent them from finding a job? Will this be able to affect them to find accommodation? Torpy said during the forum.
Torpy is endorsed by Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, Melbourne Mayor Paul Alfrey and former Melbourne Mayor Kathy Meehan, among others.
On the campaign fundraising side, Torpy reported $136,720 in contributions as of July 22, including a $100,000 loan to herself, according to Voter Focus. She reported $4,512 in in-kind contributions and expenses of $59,202 to date.
Edwards reported $51,925 in contributions as of July 15, including $36,305 in loans from him, according to Voter Focus. He declared $561 in in-kind contributions and expenses of $14,177 to date.
Musselman declared $43,450 in contributions as of July 15, including $32,000 in loans from herself, according to Voter Focus. She reported $441 in in-kind contributions and expenses of $16,851 to date.