West Palm Beach power couple judge the judges

Illinois native Robert Harvey and Florida native Debra Jenks are a Palm Beach power couple. The West Palm Beach residents and securities attorneys practice in a vast and unique niche within the law, one unfamiliar to many. It’s not surprising then that they often answer the question, “What does that mean?” when they tell people what they do. Robert says, “For us, it means we’re either defending financial advisors and brokerage firms against lawsuits filed by customers or actions taken against them by regulators, or we’re representing customers. Our firm is unusual because we handle both sides. That’s why Debra and I started Jenks and Harvey in 2015—to allow us to pursue plaintiffs’ cases.” 

Although their firm is located at 1555 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd. in West Palm Beach, their litigation, compliance, and regulatory advisory cases take them everywhere, from San Juan to San Francisco and from Tampa to Cleveland.

“The business we are involved in as lawyers is so highly regulated that there are different places you must go for dispute resolution,” Debra explains. “When a customer opens an account, or somebody goes to work for an independent broker-dealer, wirehouse firm, or discount broker-dealer, they have an obligation to arbitrate disputes. Firms must arbitrate disputes between each other. And most of these arbitrations go to a forum called FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. As a litigation firm, we defend our clients once the regulators like FINRA, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), and state regulators come after them.”

Aside from their busy careers as securities attorneys, Robert and Debra each serve on a Judicial Nominating Committee (JNC) in Florida. Robert was first appointed to the 15th Circuit JNC by Governor Rick Scott, later by Ron DeSantis. Since 2019, he has served as Chair of the 15th Circuit JNC. “We are commissioned to interview judges and make recommendations to the Governor for him and his staff to appoint judges in Palm Beach County,” Harvey says. “It’s a busy job right now. We’ve been convened. We have three openings: one circuit court judge and two county vacancies.”

It’s extremely time-consuming for Harvey due to the number of applicants they must interview. “We have 30 applicants we’ll be interviewing on February 23,” he reveals. “Although the interview process takes all day, it’s probably the shortest part of the entire process because, before that, we receive their applications and vet them, which involves calling the references and the opposing counsel. It’s a lot of work once we’re convened, especially at the trial level, because there are many more openings for circuit and county judges than appellate judges.”

Jenks was re-elected Chair to the 4th District Court of Appeal JNC for the 2021/2022 term, having served on the commission since 2012. “I had two appointments by Governor Rick Scott and got reappointed by Governor DeSantis,” she says. “We’ve had four openings in ten years because there’s just not a high turnover on that bench. There are five appellate courts right now in the state of Florida. They’re contemplating creating a sixth district court of appeal. But turnover is pretty low for this area. In addition, Florida raised the mandatory retirement rate for Juris from 72 to 75. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it kind of is because people who can and want to stay on, and who are fit to stay on, stay on.”

The 4th District JNC draws from Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, Okeechobee, St. Lucie County, and Indian River Counties (Palm Beach and Broward are the most populated). It tends to get sitting judges who have been waiting to get to an appellate bench. “I don’t know the ratio of sitting judges that apply versus people that have not been a judge before,” Jenks comments. “We don’t have the workload that Bob’s 15h Circuit JNC has. But when we go through that process, we’re vetting sitting judges. In general, we must conduct our work on the JNC correctly and respectfully with all applicants; however, it’s a little different with the 4th District because you will most likely see some of these judges again that you may or may not have selected. No one knows why we don’t select an applicant.”

Aside from his service with the 15th Circuit JNC, Harvey also serves on the Impact Fee Advisory Committee, a considerable undertaking related to developers and the amount of money they are charged to build houses. In October 2021, he was reappointed by the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners to the Land Development Regulation Advisory Board.

Given their thriving law practice and civic involvement, it might seem as if Jenks and Harvey have little time for fun. Despite their hectic work and volunteer schedules, the two manage to find time to relax, whether skiing in Park City, Utah, or amateur treasure hunting with Mel Fisher’s operation in Key West.

For more information, visit the Jenks & Harvey website.

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