Aug. 15, 2022
Judging candidates for judicial positions is notoriously difficult—and this year’s race for Collier County judge is no exception.
Judicial candidates are not like politicians who can make promises, take positions and adhere to specific ideologies. A judge is supposed to consider each case on its merits as it comes up, weigh it on the scales of the law and be objective, unbiased and equitable in decisionmaking.
This means that voters have to evaluate candidates on factors like temperament, experience and credentials.
This year, Collier County voters must consider two competing judicial candidates for county judge, Group 3. This group is a newly-created structure that will likely handle civil cases.
The candidates are Pamela Barger and Chris Brown.
According to her official biography, Pamela Barger, 45, was born in Syracuse, NY and moved to Florida with her parents. She graduated from Pine Ridge Middle School and Barron Collier High School in Naples. She and her husband, Justin, live in Golden Gate Estates with her three children.
Barger earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Florida and her law degree in 2006 from the St. Thomas University School of Law, based in Miami Gardens.
For 13 years she served the 20th Judicial Circuit in Collier County as senior staff attorney, working with circuit and county judges. For the past two years she served as General Magistrate in Collier County, overseeing the Circuit Civil Division.
General magistrates are attorneys who perform many of the same functions as judges, like hearing evidence, administering oaths and ruling on routine motions. Unlike judges, though, they do not issue final decisions. Instead, they file reports to the circuit judges who make the ultimate ruling.
Barger was first tapped to serve as an interim magistrate for the Circuit Court’s civil division in the summer of 2012. On her website she states that it was during this stint that she “recognized the positive difference a judge can have on those who come before them as well as on the community as a whole.” She also states that the experience provided her with an understanding of the parties in the courtroom and “a vast understanding of the law and the insight to make effective judicial decisions.”
Barger provided some remarkable insights to Sparker’s Soapbox, a respected non-partisan blog, website and newsletter produced by Collier County resident Sandy Parker, which provides critical information to voters.
In answer to Parker’s questions, Barger revealed that what she regarded as one of her greatest legal accomplishments came in 2012 when she presided over the wage garnishment case of a defendant who had no lawyer, legal experience or even rudimentary knowledge of what he needed for his case. Even so, he provided the necessary documents and answered her questions.
“I was able to make a ruling that followed the law and granted this defendant’s request for relief from the overwhelmingly burdensome garnishment of his wages,” she recalled. “The relief on that defendant’s face when I made the ruling will stay with me for a lifetime.”
In another case, Barger worked with a newly-appointed judge to rule in a high-profile 6-victim murder case that had been in the system for nine years.
“My work on that case over nine years resulted in a 41-page sentencing order, where the judge ultimately decided to impose a sentence of death on each of the six counts of first-degree murder,” she stated. “The gravity of that decision and the process which the judge and I undertook has forever left its mark on not only me personally but also in shaping and sharpening my legal mind.”
Asked why voters should support her over her opponent, Barger replied: “My experience has afforded me the rare opportunity to work side by side with the judges of this county with behind-the-scenes access to watch how they analyze cases and learn what they look for and find important. I have earned their respect and trust with my sound advice, exceptional analysis and insight into legal issues.”
Christoper Brown, 49, came to Naples in 1983. He attended Shadowlawn Elementary School, Gulfivew Middle School, and graduated from Naples High School in 1991.
He earned his Bachelor degree with honors from the University of Florida in 1995 and his law degree from the University of Florida College of Law in 1999.
He and his wife live in Naples and have three children in the Collier County public schools. He’s religiously active, attending St. Ann Catholic Church in Naples and belonging to the Knights of Columbus. His wife is Presbyterian, so the family also attends Covenant Presbyterian Church.
According to the biography on his website, Brown began his legal career working as in-house counsel for a consulting firm. In 2002 he began practicing courtroom law in the 20th Circuit as an assistant public defender. He then began private practice in 2004 and two years later made partner in the firm Brown, Suarez, Rios & Weinberg in Naples, where he still practices.
Brown lists his criminal trial work as a major credential, including a number of “stand your ground” cases where he won acquittals. Asked by Parker to cite his proudest accomplishments, he wrote: “I cannot pinpoint any one case. I have represented thousands of folks and have tried over 150 cases. I have also argued dozens of appeals. I guess I would point to the body of work and recognition of my peers and our judiciary that has resulted from 20+ years of effort, collectively, as my greatest accomplishment.”
When it came to his legal philosophy, Brown responded: “I am a firm believer in judicial restraint and the philosophy of Originalism. A judge’s first fealty should be to the Florida and US constitutions. Therefore, almost any legal decision I would be called on to make should be relatively straightforward as long as I consistently return to those first principles.”
Asked about his judicial role models, Brown replied: “On a national level I would start with the late, great Antonin Scalia as well as Justice Clarence Thomas.”
Brown is a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative association of lawyers and jurists. He’s also a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. He’s been endorsed by conservative farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples), and Crystal Kinzel, clerk of the county courts, among many others.
Why should voters support him?
“I believe the voters should pick me because of proven experience that is directly related to doing this job,” he replied. He had been endorsed because “I have the proven experience to step in and run a Collier County courtroom in a way the citizens deserve.”
In a recent campaign mailer, Brown pledged to voters that he would treat everyone entering court with dignity and respect, that he would approach his duties every day with humility and patience and that: “I WILL never make a ruling based on personal feelings or preconceived notions about a matter.”
That last pledge is very important because between the two candidates, Brown comes to the voters with a lot of ideological baggage: his membership in the Federalist Society and National Rifle Association memberships, in particular. His own adherence to Originalism and admiration for Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas indicates his very conservative judicial orientation.
All this raises concerns about his ability to approach cases without being influenced by ideological orthodoxies. Collier County residents entering his courtroom would not have confidence in his neutrality, impartiality and objectivity. It also raises questions about how he might approach cases involving abortion, although he has not been asked directly about it.
In contrast, Pamela Barger is, from all outward indications, ideologically neutral as befits a judge.
In his campaign Brown makes much of the fact that he has been a trial lawyer. However, this is not necessarily a convincing credential for a judge who must referee a trial.
As Barger put it in answering Parker’s questions: “My opponent will tell you that he is the only qualified candidate because he is a trial attorney and I am not. But there is nothing magical about being a trial attorney that makes you qualified for judicial office. Trial attorneys only argue from one perspective, they do not approach matters from an impartial, unbiased point of view.”
By contrast, she wrote: “I have spent my entire legal career approaching matters from an unbiased, impartial view point.”
Barger’s service as a magistrate has given her the experience necessary to effectively run an impartial, objective, fair courtroom and apply that impartiality and objectivity to whatever cases come before her.
Voters should elect Pamela Barger to be Collier County’s next Group 3 judge.
Early voting has already begun and continues until this Saturday, Aug. 20. Primary mail-in ballots can be mailed at any time. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23.
Liberty lives in light
© 2022 by David Silverberg