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First DCA Judge Nikki Ann Clark announces June 1 retirement

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First District Court of Appeal Judge Nikki Ann Clark is retiring effective June 1.

In an interview with Florida Politics, Judge Clark said that she has served as a judge for 22 years and before that worked as an attorney for 17 years. “That’s enough,” said 63-year-old Clark. “It’s time to turn that page and start that new chapter.”

Clark sent her retirement letter to Gov. Rick Scott today. Scott will appoint a judge to replace Clark. That appointee will have to be retained by voters in a merit retention race.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist appointed her to the First DCA in 2009. Prior to that, Clark for 16 years was a Leon County Circuit Court judge; she was originally appointed by former Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat. There, she heard a number of high-profile cases, including one involving 15,000 Republican absentee ballots in Seminole County during the 2000 General Election and recount efforts.

Her decision to allow the absentee ballots to be considered resulted in a barrage of hate mail and love mail. Reflecting, she laughed and said that she even got a letter of apology from someone who had previously sent her hate mail.

“It wasn’t just a good time, but an incredible time, even on those days that it’s been extremely difficult,” she said.

Crist appointed Clark to the First DCA in 2009 and she was retained by voters in the 2010 election with 58 percent of the vote. She had more votes in favor of retention than any other First DCA judge on the ballot that year. Overall, the First DCA judges had the lowest retention scores of any appellate judges on the ballot that year statewide, fueled by voter anger surrounding the First DCA’s new courthouse dubbed “Taj Mahal.”

There are five district appellate courts in Florida. The courts hear matters that are not directly appealable to the Florida Supreme Court as well as final state agency actions. The First DCA in Tallahassee hears many workers compensation cases.

Florida law requires Florida Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges after their first year on the bench to be affirmed in “merit retention” elections. Thereafter, the judges appear on the ballot in nonpartisan elections every six years so voters can determine whether the judges or justices should remain in  their courts for another six-year term.

Nikki Clark

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