ORLANDO — As he conducts his campaign to be elected as a judge to the 9th Judicial Circuit Court, Joseph Haynes Davis has been attending public events, greeting area residents, and starting a dialogue with them about his campaign.
He knows, however, that running for a judicial post is starkly different from seeking a legislative or congressional office. There are no hot-button economic or social issues to discuss, and Davis can’t even talk about cases that would come before him, according to the Judicial Code of Conduct.
But that doesn’t mean candidates for judicial offices don’t have issues to discuss with voters. As Davis noted, there are three in particular that he wants to emphasize: experience, integrity, and the role of the judiciary today.
“A judicial candidate can talk about the judiciary without talking about the things that will come before you,” he said. “I want to talk about the independence of the judiciary, and why that is a cornerstone of maintaining the public’s trust.”
He added, “I’m into making the judiciary, through this election, less mystifying to the public.”
Experience is an issue Davis is eager to talk about with voters, since he has been practicing law for decades.
“People have been asking me, probably for 10 years, to consider running” for this post, he said. “Not just people in the legal community, but also citizens who know me.”
Davis, who was born in St. Louis, Ill., and is the younger brother of music legend Miles Davis, started his career in a different direction, attending Illinois State University’s School of Communication, then launching a career in broadcasting in 1979 as a jazz and classical music announcer, news broadcaster and local “All Things Considered” co-host at the National Public Radio affiliate in Normal, Ill., WGLT.
His career in broadcasting would take him to WUSL-FM Philadelphia, also known as POWER 99 FM, and WVEE-FM V103 in Atlanta.
But in the middle of this successful career, he became interested in another field: law.
“I was in New Orleans,” he said. “I saw an ad for the Catholic Institute of Law. And I said to myself, that’s another professional option I wanted to have. Worst case scenario, you can always become a good country lawyer to make a living.”
He received his Juris Doctor from Rutgers Law-Camden in 1996, But he didn’t leave broadcasting right away. In June 1996, he was hired by Service Broadcasting, Inc. of Dallas to launch KRNB-FM 105.7, now the leading Urban Contemporary FM radio station in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.
“Broadcasting and law have gone hand in hand,” he said. “They always have. We just don’t think of it that way.”
He did, in fact, merge the two. As a licensed attorney in Florida, Davis became a legal analyst for the MSNBC talk show. “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” This was during the controversial trial of George Zimmerman in 2013.
The verdict, which angered a lot of people, helped Davis formulate the cornerstone of his campaign for the judicial position: the notion that the judiciary needs to work harder to ensure that the public fully trusts this government institution.
High profile cases like the trials of Zimmerman or Casey Anthony put the spotlight on the judicial branch of government, Davis noted, but not always in a way that reinforced the public’s sense of trust. That’s why, during his campaign, Davis has tried to educate voters about why it’s so critically important to make smart choices in their selection of a circuit court judge — and how that decision could crucially impact their lives in the future.
For example, Davis noted that as an attorney, he has worked on cases in an area of the law that impacted literally hundreds of thousands of Floridians in the past decade: home foreclosures.
“I have represented the banks — and I have defended the homeowners before the banks,” he said. “That helps distinguish what I do.”
How the circuit court judge presides over these cases, he said, is just as important as what the attorneys do.
These are matters, he said, that any voter can instantly relate to.
“I’m talking about not only my campaign, but the state of the judiciary,” he said, adding that as he gets into more details about the court with prospective voters, “They want to know more about this third branch of government. As a candidate, you can’t talk about policy, but you can talk about the judiciary itself, and the theme of my campaign is upholding the public’s trust.”
The best way to do that, he said, is for the courts and judges to not be swayed by outside influences, but instead work solely toward upholding the law — and to consistently demonstrate their integrity.
“The judiciary has to remain independent,” he said, adding that for so many Orlando area residents, when they have a serious problem, “Where do you go to resolve it? You resolve it in the judiciary. I’m helping the public understand the independence of the judiciary. That’s how you make it exciting.”
He also noted that as an attorney, he has been subject to the standards set for the courts, and is “someone who has been held under those standards for the past eight years. I have the experience.”
Davis will be holding a fundraiser on Friday, Oct. 6, a Red Carpet Event at the Lafayette’s Oyster Room, 9101 International Drive, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. It will feature live Jazz music from THe Chief Cherry Band.
For tickets or information, call 407-310-7799 or 407-839-3725 and ask for Keena Mercer or Dean Mosley.
“I believe I’m the true package that needs to be on the circuit court,” Davis said.
All registered voters in Orange and Osceola counties can vote in this judicial race in the Nov. 8 state election. This is a non-partisan race.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..