Second of two parts.
Choosing a county judge is a task that leaves most voters flailing in the dark, and the August election is going to require even more scrutiny than usual from voters because of behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
A group of mostly Orlando personal-injury lawyers wants to oust County Judge Terry Neal, one of only three women on the bench in Lake. They say they are just trying to improve the quality of the judiciary in Lake County, but Sunday's column detailed another possible reason — she had begun to question their high fees and had ruled again them.
So, who is their choice to replace the widely respected jurist?
It is Daniel Archer, a Clermont lawyer who owns the Florida Biker Law Group. Archer, 40, is a motorcycling enthusiast who turned his passion into a way to market his services to other bikers. He practices mostly in circuit court in the areas of family and criminal law.
Neal is a jurist with a calm demeanor who has been on the bench since February 2006, handling cases involving claims of less than $5,000, civil traffic matters such as running a stop sign, civil disputes of less than $15,000 and violations of ordinances.
How should voters choose a judge, about whom they probably know nothing? The best guide is to use the same rules that the members of the Judicial Nominating Commission do when considering a lawyer for a judicial appointment.
Much of the decision hinges on the personal integrity of the lawyer. The commission members are to consider standing in the community, sobriety, moral conduct, ethics and commitment to equal justice under the law.
They also look at general mental and physical health, intelligence, knowledge of the law, professional republication and experience in the court where that judge would preside.
And the examination goes further, into more subtle personality traits: patience, decisiveness, impartiality, courtesy, civility, industry, administrative ability, temperament and independence.
Keeping those attributes in mind, here is some background of the two people seeking the $138,020-a-year job:
•Archer, who lists his heritage as Native American, joined the Air Force in September 1992 at the age of 18. His job was munitions system apprentice, and he was deployed to Germany and Turkey before he mustered out in 2000.
Complications from a medical procedure in the service left Archer partly disabled, and he declared on financial disclosure documents an annual income of $19,385 from the Veterans Administration.
Archer earned his bachelor of science degree in education from McMurry University in Texas in 2001 and a bachelor of business administration the following year from the University of Central Oklahoma.
"I've wanted to be a judge since I was a kid," Archer said. "Out of all the positions that were open, I thought county court would be the best place to get my feet wet, follow my dreams and slowly move up."
Archer said he has been practicing for eight years, and his goal was to seek a judge's seat when he'd been practicing between eight and 10 years.
Those years, however, have not be without struggle for Archer.
In 2008, Archer and a former law partner got a line of credit of $100,000 and borrowed an additional $374,000 against property for their offices in Clermont. In 2011, Bank of America called the line of credit and the pair, who had used $94,000 of it, failed to repay the loan.
The bank declared them in default and also foreclosed on the property, which was sold publicly for $100.