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Six applications now in for state Supreme Court vacancy

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Appellate judge Wendy W. Berger and Circuit Judge Michelle T. Morley are the latest applicants for a seat on the Florida Supreme Court.

That brings to six the number of those who have filed to replace Justice James E.C. Perry, who is retiring at the end of the year.

The latest applications were confirmed by Jason Unger, chair of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

Berger, a Jacksonville native, was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach in late 2012.

Morley, who sits in Sumter County, was elected to the 5th Judicial Circuit bench in 2006 and re-elected in 2012.

Scott, a Republican, will name Perry’s replacement, making it his first opportunity to pick a state Supreme Court justice.

The seven-member state Supreme Court often splits 5-2 on matters of public policy, with Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston the only reliable conservative votes.

At first blush, Berger has conservative bona fides.

She received her undergraduate and law degrees from Florida State University, then served as an assistant state attorney in Northeast Florida’s 7th Judicial Circuit from 1993-2000, according to her official bio.

Berger later was assistant general counsel to then-Gov. Jeb Bush, until he appointed her a circuit judge in 2005.

She and her husband, Larry, live in St. Augustine with their two children.

Morley, a Bronx native, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Tampa and her law degree from the Stetson University College of Law, according to her Ballotpedia profile. She practiced family law before becoming a judge.

Her interest in becoming a judge was sparked by her experience as a guardian ad litem, according to a 2006 St. Petersburg Times profile. Guardians represent the interests of children in court proceedings, especially in divorce and juvenile dependency matters.

She represented “a little girl whose parents were killed in a car crash,” the Times story said.

“This was the first time I didn’t really take a side,” Morley told the paper. “I was advocating for this child, and that is when the light bulb went on.”

She said she “prides herself as a good listener who can absorb both sides of a case: ‘I get much more gratification out of being in the middle and doing the right thing and not just what I’m being paid or asked to do.’ “

They join four others in the running to replace Perry:

Roberta J. Bodnar, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Florida.

— Circuit Judge Patricia Strowbridge, who sits on the family-law bench at the Osceola County Courthouse. She was appointed a judge by Gov. Rick Scott last year.

— Orlando civil-trial defense attorney Dan Gerber, a partner with the law firm of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell. His complex-litigation practice focuses on “toxic tort, class actions, commercial, product liability, and governmental affairs,” according to his official bio.

— C. Alan Lawson, chief judge of the 5th District Court of Appeal. When he applied for a high-court opening in 2009, Lawson was backed by “religious conservatives and the National Rifle Association,” according to the Tampa Tribune.

The nominating commission is scheduled to interview finalists Nov. 28 and submit six recommended replacements to Scott by Dec. 13.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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