Jacques Berny will serve on the Judicial Appointments Commission in Pinellas County until 2024. But in the meantime, is he using the job to raise money for his run for the State House?
A review of contributions shows that many people who gave to the Seminole Republican campaign in the House 59 district were later recommended for places on the bench. In one case, a contribution was made within hours of the donor’s recommendation for a position as a circuit court judge.
Jacques denies any connection between campaign contributions and Commission attention.
“It has no bearing on the decision,” Jacques said. “The decision is made collectively by a number of commissioners, and a donation to a campaign would never influence my decision.”
But he acknowledged that many of the members of the legal community who ultimately receive recommendations from the Commission are longtime friends and sometimes former supporters of his political ambitions.
The most notable confluence of events occurred in December. Jeffrey Albinson donated $50 in the countryside of the house of Jacques on December 1st. The next day, the 6th Circuit Judicial Appointments Commission sent a listing of six names to the governor. Ron DeSantis Office to choose to fill outgoing circuit judge by Linda Allen place on the bench.
In the end, the job went to Pinellas County Judge Brian Gnage. But Albinson later appeared on a list of candidates to replace Gnage in county court.
But the proximity of the donation and the appointment even alarmed Jacques. The candidate, after being briefed on the proximity of the events, said he reviewed campaign records and found that Albinson’s donation was sent electronically at 8:21 p.m. that evening. This was actually hours after the JNC met and voted on the names around 5 p.m., although the list was not released until the following day.
Jacques said that if a donation had come while the Commission was still deliberating, he would have returned the check. Because he came later, he never questioned the gift.
But that’s not the only time contributions have preceded nominations. Philip Square gave Jacques $1,000: $500 on May 1, 2021 and another $500 on March 1 of this year. The second donation was reported the same day Piazza’s name appeared on a list of nominees to replace Gnage in Pinellas County Court, alongside Albinson.
Another person appointed for this work, Nicole Pearlmandonated $500 to Jacques in June after his name appeared on the list, but her husband, Lee Pearlmandonated $1,000 last year.
Samantha Sealy also gave money to Jacques on May 1, 2021, only $25. She was nominated three months later.
Jacques, for his part, said he has been friends with Sealy for years and accepts donations from longtime friends and professional associates. But when the Judicial Appointments Commission is convened, it does not solicit donations and will not accept them if they arrive during the period when the Commission is reviewing and interviewing candidates.
He could only remember one instance of what happened, and his treasurer canceled a check, so it was never even reported.
“Even with personal friends, I wouldn’t accept donations during a session,” he said.
Jaques runs for a free seat and faces Dipak Nadkarni in the Republican primary. Democrats Dawn Douglas and Jennifer Wilson also run.