Lawyer salary

Marion County, Florida Judge Lori Cotton challenged by county attorney

A sitting judge is facing opposition from a former colleague for one of two county judge seats contested in the August 23 election.

The winner will serve a six-year term with an annual salary of $156,377.

Candidates for the position are outgoing county judge Lori Cotton and local attorney William “Will” Harris.

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Both Harris and Cotton served as prosecutors in the state’s attorney’s office.

A look at their financial contributions indicated that the two raised a total of $94,305.88 and spent $44,216.84. Between them, they received money from various people, including a state senator, attorneys, government officials, and law firms.

To qualify as a candidate, an individual must be a member of the Florida Bar for five previous years and a county circuit resident when taking office. Judicial elections are non-partisan.

William “Will” Harris

Employed as an attorney advising the Marion County Board of Commissioners, Harris previously worked for multiple entities.

His career began at Bross, Bross, Thomas & Mays LLC in Merritt Island in 2001. Harris’ work involved representing clients in personal injury cases and negotiating settlements with insurance companies. He has also handled criminal cases, landlord and tenant disputes, eminent domain cases, foreclosures and debt collections.

From there, Harris went to the state’s attorney’s office in the fall of 2006. He remained there until 2019. While serving as an assistant attorney, Harris wore many hats. One was to prosecute cases involving minors, whether it was a felony or a misdemeanor.

His other duties at SAO included: training school resource officers; review law enforcement reports and decide whether to file criminal charges; appear in drug court; manage Baker’s Law, truancy, and violation of injunction hearings; and assisting law enforcement officials with search and arrest warrants.

William "Will be" Harris with his wife and two daughters

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Leaving the SAO, Harris joined the law firm Dan Newlin in 2019. There Harris handled adjusters and resolved personal injury cases.

He joined the department two years ago. He advises county officials on various legal matters such as representing them if the county is sued; take statements; provide mediations; review the legal demand memorandum and provide legal opinions and advice to departments.

As to why he wanted to be a lawyer, Harris said, “Because of what I learned working in the fields.” When asked what he learned in the fields, Harris said: “I learned to work hard and always do my best, whether it was packing watermelons into semis. -trailers or bottle-feeding an orphan calf.”

He said many older people shared stories of injustice or their hard work in the fields and would receive little or no money.

Why Harris wants to be a judge

Harris said he wanted to be a county judge because he felt he had the temper and the experience.

“I think it would be a good fit for me,” he said.

When former county judge Sarah Ritterhoff Williams announced her retirement last year, Harris was among about a dozen people who applied for nomination to serve her term. Of the 12, he was in the bottom four. Cotton was selected by Governor Ron DeSantis to fill the position.

File photo of retired county judge Sarah Ritterhoff Williams

“I’ll let the people of Marion County decide. I want to tell people about it,” Harris said of why he decided to run.

Harris says his work experience is another reason he wants to be a judge.

“I dealt with all the legal issues,” he said.

If elected, Harris said he would abide by the law, emphasize technology for court hearings and remain “ready to listen to the people.”

Lori Cotton

Cotton has been on the bench for just over a year and she considers it one of the toughest jobs of her career.

When she was chosen by the governor in 2021, Cotton said she felt “excited”. She also felt sad because she was leaving the SAO, where she had worked for years.

“It was tears,” she said.

Her transition from prosecutor to wearing the black dress was quick, she said.

“It was very quick,” she said, referring to sitting on the bench two weeks after leaving the SAO in May 2021.

County Judge Lori Cotton

Cotton said she didn’t know what to expect. Now that she has some work experience, she said the county job role is rewarding, yet challenging.

“I love what I do,” she said. “Every day is so different. You can see different people, cases and scenarios.”

She said that when she is on the bench, she feels the weight of the Constitution on her.

“It’s a huge responsibility. I take the Constitution and the law seriously,” Cotton said.

The cotton experience

Cotton said that with the case she handles, she gets a list of all the cases from the clerk and reviews them before the hearing. That way, she said, she was on top of things and nothing “slipped through the cracks.”

County Judge Lori Cotton speaks during her inauguration

As for what voters should know about her, Cotton said she had more than 140 jury trials under her belt, had served as a supervisor at the SAO, and had extensive experience in various aspects of the law. such as wiretapping, sex crimes and murder charges.

“I can handle complex cases and situations and have enough experience to make good, informed decisions,” she said.

As a judge, she said she had the opportunity to teach young lawyers who were going through the system the same way she handled cases in county court.

She said she learned a huge amount of knowledge from retired county judge John Futch and wanted to do the same for other lawyers presenting cases before her.

“I want to guide them the same way Judge Futch did for me. By the time I left, I had learned a lot,” Cotton said.

What voters can expect from Cotton

Asked what voters can expect of her, Cotton replied, “I’m a public servant and I always have been a public servant.”

Cotton had been a prosecutor for 20 years and at one point thought she would be a career assistant prosecutor for decades.

“I never thought I would leave,” she said.

But, when Ritterhoff Williams retired, she decided to “give it a shot”.

“I knew I had the qualification,” she said.

Cotton said voters can expect her to be engaged and dedicated to her work because she wants to make the community a better place.

“I work for the community and I will continue to do so. I will be fair. It’s just a job, but what can I do to make it better,” she said.

Contact Austin L. Miller at [email protected] or @almillerosb

COUNTY COURT JUDGE

County judge candidates run in nonpartisan elections and are elected countywide. Judges serve six-year terms and earn an annual salary of $156,377.

CANDIDATES

Lori Cotton

Family: Married with three daughters and two stepchildren

Education: University of Florida College of Law, JD, with honors; Ohio State University, BA, history, summa cum laude

Professional experience: County Court Judge, 2021–present; State’s Attorney’s Office, 2001-2021

Public Service: Former Chief Brownie Girl Scout at Dr. NH Jones Elementary School; former chair of education for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association; homeless volunteer; former board member, musician, actor at Ocala Civic Theatre; director Ocala Pumpkin Patch; completed four marathons.

William “Will” Harris

Family: Married with two daughters

Education: University of Maryland Carey School of Law; University of Florida, BS, Human Resources; Central Florida College

Work experience: County Attorney’s Office; Personal injury attorneys Dan Newlin; State Attorney’s Office; Bross, Bross, Thomas & Mays, LLC.

Memberships and Organizations: Court Inns; Florida County Attorneys Association; National Bar Association; 100 black men from Greater Florida; NAACP; Boy Scouts of America, North Florida Council; Marion County Cattlemen’s Association; Southeast Brangus Breeders Association; Harris Land & Cattle Company.

ELECTION DETAILS

Primary election day is August 23. Polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. that day. Check your voter information card to find out where to vote. If you have questions, visit votemarion.gov.

Early voting will take place August 13-20, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the following locations:

  • Election Center: 981 NE 16th St., Ocala
  • Belleview Public Library: 13145 SE County Road 484, Belleview
  • Brian Litz Assistant Building: 9048 SW HWY 200, Ocala
  • Dunnellon Public Library: 20351 Robinson Road, Dunnellon
  • Forest Public Library: 905 S County Road 314A
  • Liberty Public Library: 5870 SW 95th St., Ocala
  • Reddick Community Center: 4345 NW 152nd St, Reddick
  • Silver Springs Shores Community Center: 590 Silver Road, Ocala
  • The Villages Mulberry Center: 8445 SE 156th Mulberry Lane

If you have requested an absentee ballot, it must be received by the Elections Office by 7 p.m. on August 23. For more information on how to obtain a mail-in ballot, visit https://www.votemarion.gov/Ways-to-Vote/Vote-by-mail/Vote-by-mail-FAQ