TalkingPoints: Understanding the Lee County court judge race

Published: August 19, 2022 5:20 PM EDT

People want the facts and details about who is running for office.

But there is one race where coming by information might be tough.

And that is the county judge race, where incumbent Lee County Court Judge Archie B. Hayward is facing off against newcomer Lindsay Scott Garza in the primary election on Tuesday. Early voting ends at 6 p.m. on Saturday in Lee, Collier and Hendry Counties. Charlotte County early voting ends at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

People running for elected office like county commission, state legislature or U.S. Congress expect voters will ask all kinds of questions about their lives, families, work, backgrounds and beliefs, but Hayward and Scott Garza don’t have that level of freedom.

They have to follow what’s called the “Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.”

There are seven “canons” or rules.

Number 7 addresses campaigns and “inappropriate political activity.”

“We want judges, if we go before their court, to be independent and neutral, and to be fair, and so if judges begin to speak about issues, they might suggest, oh, they’d lean one way or the other. And then if you were to appear before them in court, maybe you’d feel like they weren’t being fair and neutral to you,” said University of Central Florida professor and political analyst Aubrey Jewett. “It’s an important canon. But it is odd and a lot different than all the other offices that we elect.”

Both candidates told WINK News the restrictions make campaigning tricky.

Their race is nonpartisan and their appearances at political events are limited.

“On a very limited basis are we allowed to go,” Scott said. “So, for example, if we were asked to speak at a political event, both myself and my opponent would have an opportunity to go. We would speak and then we would have to leave and not come back. No mingling with folks.”

Hayward said: “If someone wanted to present an award to a judge, they could not have a function or ceremony that they could charge to get in. So that way, the judge is not using the office to promote a certain idea or group.”

The restrictions don’t stop there.

They can’t ask for your vote or your money to fund their campaigns.

They also can’t share how they feel about some of the biggest headlines and most divisive issues.

“They may want to know what your platform is, what is your mission? How are you going to use your power,” Hayward said. “People say you are, you are a politician? Well, yes, and no, I have to be elected, which makes me a possible politician to get the vote. But the canons restrict you.”

Scott Garza said: “Asking us to take a side one way or the other, that’s where we have limitations … So, any controversial issue essentially that we may rule on one day. So you know, right now with Roe v. Wade, that’s obviously a very hot topic. So I can’t discuss my personal beliefs on that issue or any transgender issues that are going on.”

So what can they do?

Scott Garza said she can talk about the law.

“We can educate folks on the law,” Scott Garza said. “We can talk about anything that will further the community’s understanding of what the law is.”

Hayward said he can talk about his experience.

“Who you are, what your experience is, and that you will be fair and impartial,” he said.

But is that enough to judge who will be the best judge?

“Those are fair concerns. I myself, as a voter, for many years wanted to know how people felt about those issues. And the answer is obviously I’ve got personal beliefs. But the courtroom is no place for those. My job is to follow the law as it’s written,” Scott Garza said.

Hayward added: “Some people will say, Oh, I know you can’t, you’re not supposed to answer this. But I want to know, I need to know, and it’s like, but don’t you want a judge who will follow the law?”

While the rules can be limiting, there is an upside. These candidates can’t lie in political ads or in person.

“You’re not allowed to say anything that’s untrue, not only about yourself, but also about your opponent,” Jewett said. “Can you imagine? That’s really one good thing if we could get that in all the other elections where people couldn’t lie about their opponents. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

Why can’t we do that?

“Well, unfortunately, because of free speech, and in those other offices, there’s a lot of leeway given to free speech. And so you can say things that are borderline not true as long as they have a grain of truth,” Jewett said.

MORE:

Read about Judge Archie B. Hayward.

Read about Lindsay Scott Garza.


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