MANATEE -- Manatee County Judge Diana Moreland is one of six finalists for a judicial vacancy in the Second District Court of Appeal.
The vacancy, left by the resignation of Judge James W. Whatley, was announced earlier this year.
A nine-member nominating commission sorted through applications, character letters and references for 19 candidates before conducting interview with each applicant.
"The Florida Bar has some suggested questions that are provided to us," said Ed Page, vice chair of the nominating commission.
"What we were looking for is the most qualified candidates. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to be an appellate lawyer. We were looking for people with good judgment, varied background and experience, and good character."
Page said ability to work as part of a team was also a must.
"They don't try cases. They work in three-judge panels where they hear and decide a case that is presented to them on appeal," Page said, adding that a majority of cases are criminal. "That's a give-and-take process, so we're looking for someone who is amenable with others working on that panel in a collaborative manner to reach an accurate and fair decision."
The Second District Court of Appeal, with headquarters in Lakeland, covers 14 counties with a population of more 3.8 million.
Those counties are Pasco, Pinellas, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, DeSoto, Manatee, Sarasota, Hillsborough, Charlotte, Glades, Collier, Hendry and Lee. Hearings for the Second District Court of Appeal take place in Lakeland and Tampa.
This vacancy is in Lakeland.
To be eligible, applicants must have been a member of the Florida Bar for the preceding 10 years, be a registered voter and reside in the Second District Court's jurisdiction when assuming office.
Following the interview process, the nominating commission sent six names to be reviewed by Gov. Rick Scott, who will make the appointment.
"The governor has the option of interviewing the six that we nominated," Page said.
Moreland began her service on the 12th Judicial Circuit bench in Manatee County in January 2005. Moreland has a law degree from Stetson University and a bachelor's degree from the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
Other nominees include Matthew Conigliaro, appellate attorney from St. Petersburg; Donald Jacobsen, judge from the 10th Judicial Circuit including Hardee, Highland and Polk counties; Ellen Masters, judge from the 10th Judicial Circuit; Stephen Senn, appellate attorney from Lakeland; and Daniel Sleet, a judge in the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County.
"We have great candidates," Page said. "It was a difficult process whittling it down to a final six."
District court judges serve a six-year term and are eligible to continue service after surviving a merit retention vote.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitternote>