From The St. Petersburg Times, By Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler and Christopher Goffard
Compared to other political races, judicial elections are a crushing snooze. The candidates, having law degrees, are circumspect by nature, and a rigid code of conduct usually prevents even the wildest ones from saying much.
Still, no election is without at least a whiff of controversy or display of dubious judgement.
Enter the Hillsborough County Judicial Campaign Practices Committee, formed in April by the county bar in association with with the spur of Circuit Judge Kevin Carey.
The committee chairman, Tampa lawyer Tom Scarritt, said the aim is to enhance the integrity of local judicial elections. The committee will field complaints about candidates' behavior- such as, say, questionable fundraising tactics- and pronounce within days on whether it's ethical.
"Miami has had a committee like this in place for 18 years, and they have had success with it," Scarritt said. "You hear a lot about political elections in Miami, but you don't hear too much newsworthy about judicial elections." That's thanks, he says, to the committee.
One of the local committee's first moves: Requiring all judicial candidates to sign a pledge that they will adhere to the judicial code of conduct, and will be responsible for the conduct of friends, family, and supporters.
By the deadline Wednesday afternoon, all 13 current candidates had returned the pledge with their signature. "I was quite frankly a little surprised, but pleased," Scarritt said. "When lawyers ask another lawyer to sign something, they're initially suspicious."
Hillsborough circuit judges Charles Bergmann and E. Lamar Bartles will face opposition in November from lawyers Beth Reineke and Donald Harrison, respectively. On the county bench, Judge Paul Huey is facing opposition from Victor Veschlo, Judge Charlotte Anderson from Kim Vance, and Judge Art McNeil from Chris DeBock.
Tampa attorneys Henry Gill, Liz Rice, and Brad Souders are running for a seat left open by the impending retirement of County Judge, Elwin Martinez.