Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fletcher and Boyer Face off Incumbent's Past under Scrutiny

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fletcher and Boyer Face off Incumbent's Past under Scrutiny

Article excerpt

He's been on the bench for 24 years and never faced opposition.

Now, Duval County Judge Hugh Fletcher is in a tough battle to keep his seat in a judicial race that's resurfacing a past public reprimand against him by the Florida Supreme Court and allegations that he doesn't work a full day.

And Fletcher accuses his opponent, attorney Tyrie W. Boyer, of trying to buy a judicial seat because Boyer has put $150,000 of his own money into his campaign account.

When voters go to the polls Sept. 5 in the non-partisan race for County Judge Group 1, it'll be the first time they've had a chance to vote in a local judicial race since 1996.

Whoever wins the seat will be paid $117,000 as a county judge, a position that calls for handling misdemeanor criminal cases, civil cases that involve less than $15,000, traffic court and municipal code violations.

Judicial races are usually less combative than other political races because the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Florida statutes regulate political conduct by judges and judicial candidates.

In fact, the Florida Supreme Court sponsored forums throughout the state for the first time this year to brief judicial candidates about the rules. Among the restrictions are rules prohibiting candidates from making comments about an issue that may come before the court. They also cannot make false statements about themselves or their opponents.

"If you say something that's verifiable untrue . . . and the Supreme Court believes it impacted the election, the Supreme Court is going to take the election away from you," said Judge Donald R. Moran Jr., chief judge in Duval, Nassau and Clay counties.

Thousands of dollars are being spent by both campaigns. Fletcher -- who had raised $50,122 as of July 28 -- is advertising on billboards and city buses. Boyer -- who had raised $184,145 as of July 28 -- also has purchased advertising time on local television and radio stations.

This is Boyer's third attempt to become a judge. The 52-year-old applied for two open judicial seats last year, once making the list of names recommended to the governor but never getting appointed.

Although there were a number of judicial seats up for grabs this year, Boyer sought Fletcher's seat. None of the other judges up for re-election has an opponent.

"I wanted to make certain that if I ran for a judge . . . and especially to replace a judge that's sitting, that I would improve the bench," Boyer said. "I felt with my opponent's public record that if people said to me . . . 'I'm going to vote for your opponent, even though I know your opponent,' they would have to kind of apologize for his public record."

In a 1992 Times-Union article, Fletcher was accused of working less than four hours a day. Then the Florida Supreme Court publicly reprimanded him over his role in a 1993 boating incident. A civil lawsuit was filed against him in 1998 to recover an unpaid debt.

And Fletcher, 57, recently returned more than $6,000 in campaign contributions he received before filing the paperwork that names his campaign treasurer, which is a violation of state campaign finance law.

Fletcher said he does a lot of work away from the office by telephone and has handled more than 200,000 cases while on the bench; Boyer disputes Fletcher's calculation. Fletcher's Web site mistakenly says he has tried more than 200,000 cases.

In the boating incident, Fletcher was accused of running into a dock while boating in the Intracoastal Waterway. Florida Marine Patrol officials said he had been drinking, but Fletcher was never charged.

In a signed agreement between Fletcher and the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, he apologized for hitting a dock and leaving the scene without reporting the accident. Now Fletcher said he doesn't know what he hit that night, saying he agreed to the public reprimand only to end the inquiry that had gone on for a year and a half. …

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