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Buried in the fine print of today’s Florida ballot, well below elections for President, U.S. senators and representatives, state Cabinet officers, county commissioners, supervisors of elections and various levels of judges, is a referendum item that, if approved, could eventually reshape the state’s judiciary. A scant 46 words long, the measure asks voters whether they want to keep electing circuit judges or have them vetted by a nominating committee, which would refer candidates for appointment by the governor. Proponents of so-called “merit selection” say judicial elections damage the judiciary’s independence by forcing judges to raise money to campaign for election. Opponents say merit selection would politicize the selection of judges by leaving nominations to a small group of people operating in private. The issue has aroused passionate campaigning by advocates for both positions. In its effort to completely cover the measure’s ramifications, the Miami Daily Business Reviewasked two of most outspoken to present their arguments. Herman J. Russomanno, a partner with Russomanno and Borello in Miami, is president of the Florida Bar, which favors merit selection. Victor M. Diaz, Jr., a partner with Podhurst Orseck Josefsberg Eaton Meadow Olin & Perwin in Miami, is vice president of the Cuban American Bar Association. He is chairman of Citizens for an Open Judiciary, which opposes merit selection. PRO: Vote for Merit Selection The right to vote is the most basic privilege of American citizenship and for a truly open and independent judiciary the citizens of Florida should vote “Yes” on the referendums regarding the merit selection and retention of their trial judges, says Herman Russomann, president of the Florida Bar, which favors merit selection. CON: Vote Against Merit Selection Today, voters are being asked to give up their right to participate in the selection and retention, through general election, of state court judges. In its place, is proposed a system which grandfathers in uncontested judges and gives life tenure to existing judiciary, among other negatives, says Victor M. Diaz, Jr., chairman of Citizens for an Open Judiciary, which opposes merit selection.

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