Times makes recommendations in Pinellas-Pasco court campaigns

in Uncategorized by

On the Aug. 26 ballot are five Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court seats, four of them open.

Four races in the 6th Circuit have only two candidates each, so they will be decided in this election. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in a race with three candidates, then the top two vote-getters will face each other in November.

Circuit judges and are paid $142,178 per year and serve six-year terms. They are responsible for hearing felony, probate and family law cases, in addition to civil disputes in situations where damages are in excess of $15,000.

Open to all Pinellas and Pasco voters, the races are nonpartisan.

The Tampa Bay Times recommends:

Susan St. John for Group 1

The two attorneys seeking to replace retiring Judge Lauren Laughlin — Susan St. John and Laura Snell — are credible, but Susan St. John offers broader experience in both the courtroom and private life.

St. John, 40, spent a decade as a Pinellas-Pasco assistant state attorney. Working her way through juvenile cases, domestic and child abuse prosecutions, she became supervising attorney of the gang unit, handling more than 70 jury trials and is is frequently found in court.

She is known for the ability to manage heavy caseloads, as well as her strong work ethic.

Alicia Polk for Group 2

Of the three lawyers vying for Group 2 — Alicia Polk, Ken Lark and Alan Rosenthal — each brings different life experiences and legal backgrounds to the race to succeed retiring Judge Raymond Gross.

Alicia Polk, says the Times, is the most promising.  A former assistant state attorney, who now serves in private practice. Polk has handled a wide variety of family, civil and criminal cases.

The 36-year-old is a native of Dade City and practiced law at Hersch & Polk for the last six years at. Polk offers extensive trial experience and understands the need for an even-temper on the bench, as well as running an efficient courtroom.

Kimberly Sharpe for Group 16

According to the Times, Sharpe is the clear-cut choice to succeed retiring Judge Walt Logan. A Clearwater lawyer, Kimberly Sharpe is much younger than her opponent, Brian Battaglia from St. Petersburg. Although she has spent less time as a lawyer, Sharpe also more potential to be an outstanding judge.

Sharpe, 33, has practiced at the Clearwater firm of Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns for eight years. She became a partner just over two years ago, a sign of superior ability and solid grasp of the law. Even though she has little jury trial experience, she is frequently in courtrooms for hearings on a range of issues and has performed appellate work. Her experience includes probate, land use and employment law.

Those familiar with her work point out her strong work ethic, ability to write thoughtful briefs and superior preparation.

Phil Matthey for Group 21

Two sound candidates are in the race to succeed retiring Judge Stanley Mills — Phil Matthey and Amanda Colon — but the edge goes to Assistant State Attorney Matthey, a prosecutor of high-profile cases in Pasco County, giving him extensive trial experience.

Matthey, 37, was raised in Switzerland and moved to Florida for college. For two years, he served as deputy sheriff in Orange County and graduated from law school. Matthey spent four years as a Clearwater assistant state attorney.

After moving to Jacksonville for family reasons, Matthey was in private practice for a year before returning in January 2010 to work in the office of Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe in Pasco County.

Highly regarded by both his bosses and assistant public defenders, Matthey expertly handles a large case load and argued more than 60 jury trials.

Bruce Boyer for Group 35

Only one credible candidate is in the Group 35 race.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Bruce Boyer served as a capable judge for 23 years, running unopposed since winning a three-way race in 1990 for the open seat. The Times gives no compelling reason for voters to remove Boyer from the bench.

Boyer, 67, headed over more than 200 jury trials, closing about 1,500 cases a year. Rarely have his decisions been reversed on appeal. keeping a low profile in the courthouse, Boyer is known as a no-nonsense judge presiding over an efficient courtroom.

Using electronic filings, Boyer often conducts hearings over the phone, and works to rule promptly instead of taking issues under advisement, leaving the parties to wait for a decision.

Florida law requires mandatory retirement of circuit judges at age 70 unless the birthday occurs more than halfway into a judge’s six-year term. Then, judges can serve past their 70th birthday to complete the term. For Boyer, it means he must leave the bench by his 70th birthday, a little over two years after this election, when the governor appoints his successor.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.