Election 2012: Eugene Turner
Candidate for Collier County judge.
Election 2012: Jim McGarity
Candidate for Collier County judge.
EAST NAPLES — What's in an age?
In Collier County this election season, it's more than seasonal barbs about winter visitors, bad driving and early-bird specials.
Age is a point of contention in a heated runoff race for judge, as veteran County Judge Eugene C. Turner fights to keep his Group 2 seat despite a state mandate that would force him to retire about 1 1/2 years into a six-year term, if re-elected.
This election will be the last time the justice, who ascended to the bench in 1983 by gubernatorial appointment, can be re-elected, barring a constitutional amendment extending the retirement age.
"The law says that I may serve until I'm 70," Turner said.
Not voting for him based on his age would be tantamount to making the upper limit age for re-election 67, he said. Under Florida's Constitution, judges must retire at 70, unless they can serve out half their term before that birthday, in which case they can complete the full six years.
By raising the issue of age, challenger Jim McGarity, is "asking to modify (that age) through that vote against me," Turner added.
Turner's inability to serve out the full term is one of McGarity's main and constant criticisms of the judge, whom he will face in a runoff Nov. 6 after both failed to earn 50 percent of the vote in August's primary election.
"It's been the center plank of my platform," McGarity told the Daily News.
If Turner could serve "halfway and a day," he added, "I wouldn't have even entered the race."
A proposed constitutional amendment in the Florida House and Senate to raise the retirement age to 75 zipped through the Legislature with momentum earlier this year before stalling in the session's final days. Approval would have put the amendment on the ballot in the upcoming election.
Since it missed this year's ballot, the change would need to clear the Legislature before being put to Floridians in a special vote in time for it to affect Turner.
That's not likely, "not over this issue," according to Sen. David Simmons, a Republican from the Orlando area who sponsored the amendment last year.
Simmons still hopes to push the amendment through in the upcoming session and see it on the 2014 ballot.
"I see it as the shape of things to come. We have an increasingly aging population, people are living significantly longer than they did 30, 40, 50 years ago, when the 70-year age limitation was put into the Constitution. It's archaic," Simmons argued.
Some states have increased, or removed, age limits for judges. Federal judges aren't subject to forced retirement.
"I'm an attorney. I practice in the court system. I see that a good judge is a tremendously valuable asset to our judicial system," Simmons added. "I hate to see a waste of talent."
McGarity, who turns 63 in November, earned 47 percent of the vote in the August primary, while Turner garnered 43 percent. A third candidate, Sam Lopez, took the remainder, necessitating the Nov. 6 runoff.
It is the only county judge seat that remains to be filled, after one incumbent ran unopposed, and another earned a majority in the primary.
County judges preside over criminal misdemeanor and small claims cases, traffic offenses and violations of municipal and county ordinances.
The new judicial term begins in January.
If Turner is re-elected, a judicial nominating commission would suggest three to six candidates to the governor to fill the vacancy after his 70th birthday in July 2014.
The governor then would have 60 days to choose the replacement judge, and that person will serve the remainder of the original term. Once the six years of the term are up, voters again would choose who fills the seat.