No relief for county judge

County Judge Mark Yerman tries to schedule a case during an April 2017 hearing in county court. The state this year approved an additional county court judge because of Yerman's caseload.

Twelve attorneys, including six who live in Citrus County, will be interviewed Friday with a chance to become Citrus’s second county court judge.

Members of the Fifth Judicial Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission will meet Friday for scheduled interviews for all 12 applicants. Each interview is to last 15 minutes.

After years of being eligible for a second judge to accommodate County Judge Mark Yerman, the Legislature this year provided funding and Gov. Ron DeSantis included it in the signed budget.

According to the JNC’s announcement of the open position, the new judge must be a resident of Citrus County by the time he or she assumes office. 

The appointed position is good until 2022, when it will go on the ballot.

The applicants are:

• Stephen Barbieri, 36, Inverness; private attorney in Inverness; practicing law in Florida since 2009; executive director of the Citrus County Education Foundation from 2013-16; applied to JNC for circuit court position earlier this year.

• Bruce Carney, 54, Beverly Hills; private attorney in Crystal River; practicing law in Florida since 1992; civil infraction traffic hearing officer since 2005; went to private practice in 1994 after three years as an assistant state attorney.

• Jeffrey Fuller, 46, Orlando; general counsel for Fifth Judicial Circuit Court in Tavares since 2018; practicing law in Florida since 2008; application states he plans to move into Fifth Judicial Circuit (Citrus, Marion, Hernando, Lake, Sumter counties) this summer.

• Joshua Houston, 43, Inverness; assistant public defender, Hernando County; practicing law in Florida since 2007; assistant state attorney 2007-14; Teen Court volunteer judge 2008-14.

• Barbara Kissner Kwatkosky, 54, Ocala; general magistrate Fifth Judicial Circuit in Marion and Sumter counties since 2016; practicing law in Florida since 2003; judicial hearing officer 2006-16; has applied to JNC six times since 2011.

• LeAnn Mackey-Barnes, age not listed, Ocala; chief assistant public defender Marion County since November 2016; practicing law in Florida since 2002; assistant public defender since 2002; unsuccessful political campaigns for Marion County judge in 2012 and 2018; has applied to JNC five times since 2014.

• Lisa Martin, 41, Tampa; assistant attorney general, Office of the Attorney General, Tampa since 2015; practicing law in Florida since 2009; assistant public defender Hernando County 2010-14; currently represents the state on death penalty appeals; applied to JNC twice since 2018 in separate circuits.

• Dale Merrill, 65, Homosassa; private law office in Homosassa; practicing law in Florida since 2005; assistant public defender 2005-09; volunteer Teen Court judge since 2009; member of the Citrus County Community Charitable Foundation 2017-18.

• Scott Smith, 50, Floral City; private law office in Brooksville; practicing law in Florida since 1994; applied to JNC in 2005; since 2007 has been a licensed mental health counselor.

• Edward Spaight, 49, Inverness; chief assistant public defender for Citrus County since 2014; practicing law in Florida since 2009; assistant public defender since 2009; unsuccessful candidate for circuit court judge in 2018; applied to JNC seven times since September 2015.

• Judy Stewart, 56, Eustis; private law office in Eustis; practicing law in Florida since 2008; unsuccessful candidate for Lake County judge in 2016; applied for several open county and circuit judge positions since 2017.

• Peter Sziklai, 53, no address listed but registered to vote in Marion County; assistant public defender Marion County since 2006; practicing law in Florida since 1999.

One by one, in 15-minute intervals, the applicants will be interviewed in public by the 5th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), a nine-member board of lawyers and non-attorneys. None of the members list a law firm or residence in Citrus County, the JNC’s website shows

According to the JNC, its first interview is at 9 a.m. and its last begins at noon, in Room 1-345, the Clerk of Circuit Court’s Conference Room, located on the third floor of the Citrus County Courthouse, 110 N. Apopka Ave., Inverness.

JNC members will begin their private deliberations at 12:15 p.m. before JNC Chairman Robert W. Batsel Jr. sends a list of three to six names later that day to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The governor's general counsel will then schedule a second round of interviews with the finalists and the governor's office before DeSantis makes his selection.

Chronicle staff writer Buster Thompson contributed to this report.

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Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916 or bthompson@chronicleonline.com.

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