A Northeast Florida nominating commission forwarded four finalists to Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace Circuit Judge Karen K. Cole, who is retiring Oct. 1.
Cole currently hears family law cases and has previously heard serious lawsuits.
Circuit judges handle the most serious state cases, including felonies, major lawsuits, juvenile delinquency and custody battles. Judicial nominating commissions forward finalists to the governor who must pick from the list of finalists.
In this case, the nominating commission selected three former prosecutors and a former guardian ad litem.
All four have previously applied for judicial appointments.
Brooke Brady, London Kite and Jim Kallaher all began their careers as prosecutors.
Kite handled some of the Jacksonville State Attorney’s Office’s most complex prosecutions until Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed her as a county judge last year. County judges hear misdemeanors and small claims cases, and they also decide whether to release or set bail for those arrested in the county.
Brady and Kimber Strawbridge have extensive experience dealing with children, Brady as a juvenile prosecutor and Strawbridge as a former guardian ad litem. Both are general magistrates who oversee hearings and make recommendations.
Kallaher now works primarily as a civil-defense attorney, often representing general contractors.
Chief Judge Mark Mahon generally assigns judges to specific divisions, like juvenile, family or felony courts, based on need and experience.
The mandatory retirement age for judges is 75, but many, like Cole, retire earlier.
Since taking office two and a half years ago, Gov. DeSantis has put a mark on the state’s judiciary with his appointments.
Brady, Kite and Kallaher all listed in their applications their memberships with the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group that has grown particularly influential as part of the judicial appointment process.
Cole was one of two judges left, along with Circuit Judge Lance Day, in the Fourth Judicial Circuit selected by a Democratic governor.
Brooke Brady is a general magistrate for the Fourth Judicial Circuit. In her role, she handles civil, criminal, family and juvenile hearings. Before that, she was a prosecutor.
She told the nominating commission that during the pandemic, her caseload increased, but she was already familiar with Zoom and was able to keep the courts moving.
“It’s important that as a judge, you manage your caseload and your calendar and that you resolve cases as fully as you can, and then [if] for some reason they’re not resolved, then you try to find out why,” she told the commission. In her application, she pointed to her experience handling heavy caseloads as a prosecutor.
Brady also oversees Girl Court — a program that allows some female juvenile defendants to avoid certain penalties and criminal records.
“We saw a lot of kids that had mental health diagnosis and the juvenile justice system really didn’t have the tools in place to deal with some of those children and that they really kind of needed more supervision and more help. So I spoke to some other stakeholders. We were able to get a grant from DCF and start our first mental health court in juvenile, so we’ve been able to do that and really help a lot of kids throughout the process,” Brady said.
Brady has applied for judgeships four times before, and she was a finalist for a county judge seat in December 2018.
James (Jim) Kallaher
James Kallaher is a civil defense attorney and a Navy veteran. He previously worked as a Jacksonville prosecutor in the early 2000s and recently became a partner and shareholder at Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman, & Goggin. He has been a resident of Clay County for 27 years.
In his application, Kallaher said he typically represents general contractors sued in construction-defect cases. He also said he represents automobile dealerships and other businesses that have personal injury claims or employment claims brought against them.
Kallaher said as a judge he would emphasize keeping his cases on timelines.
“Where I see problems is where the court doesn’t necessarily enforce the deadlines. … That just increases the amount of time, which increases the cost,” Kallaher said. “I would write a very strong case management order and try and make everybody hold their feet to the fire.”
This is the seventh time Kallaher has submitted an application to be a circuit judge. He was a finalist twice, in January 2020 and in October 2020.
Judge London Kite
County Judge London Kite was appointed to the bench in 2020. Before that, she was the director of attorney development and select prosecutions for the State Attorney’s Office. As a prosecutor, Kite tried 59 murder cases.
As a county judge, Kite handles both civil and criminal cases and presides over first appearances, when judges determine whether to release, set bail or continue to detain newly arrested defendants.
Kite said despite her past work as a prosecutor, she is not biased in favor of one side or the other.
“I know that there was some concern because I was a prosecutor while I was transitioning to the bench, but I was never an outcome-driven prosecutor. I hope that came through. I never filed a case because I was trying to win the case. I was filing it based upon my ethical considerations that I had a reasonable probability of conviction,” Kite told the commission. “So as a judge … I follow the law no matter what the outcome is.”
She said already on the bench she’s granted “a few motions” from defendants that have stopped prosecutors from presenting evidence.
“So I am definitely not outcome driven and I believe that I restrain myself.”
Kite also told the commission that she is a data-driven judge. She said she reviews how her cases are progressing through an Excel sheet to make sure her cases are streamlined and not prolonged.
Kimber Strawbridge is a general magistrate for the Fourth Judicial Circuit. She primarily handles juvenile hearings and previously worked as a guardian ad litem, appointed to represent a child’s best interests in certain cases. As a magistrate, she oversees a family treatment court program. This program is designed to help addicted parents get treatment and accountability through frequent court attendance and education to hopefully reunify parents with their children.
Strawbridge said her specialty in dependency law helped her prepare for the high amount of casework that is expected of a judge.
“We all want to learn and to grow and we feel challenged by doing new things. And I feel like I’ve put a lot into my ability and position with dependency. I’ve helped other state judges implement programs,” Strawbridge told the commission.
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