There is a good reason judicial races are nonpartisan and judicial canons prevent candidates from discussing specific issues.
The law — not personal opinions — should determine a judge's decisions. Politics sometimes does intrude in the courtroom, but voters can minimize the chances of such abuse by choosing judicial candidates for their legal acumen and temperament, not political associations.
In making our recommendations in judicial races, we interview the candidates and talk to their colleagues in an effort to determine which candidates have the appropriate experience, organizational skills and self-discipline to handle the critical responsibility of dispensing justice.
This year, Hillsborough County voters will decide one circuit court contest and three county court races.
Circuit judges handle major cases and have the authority to impose the death penalty, terminate parental rights and order the seizure of personal assets.
Tomorrow we will give our county court endorsements.
In Group 14 of the 13th Judicial Circuit, former state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd Jr. is challenging Judge Mark Wolfe.
Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Wolfe, 56, to the county court in 2000 and then elevated him to the circuit bench in 2004, where Wolfe has earned a reputation for being fair-minded and efficient. He says he has presided over more than 50,000 cases, including domestic violence, civil and criminal matters.
A board certified lawyer with an obvious passion for the law, he is praised by those who have practiced before him as being conscientious, diligent and treating everyone with respect. He was a finalist for appointment to the 2nd District Court of Appeal a couple of years ago.
Byrd, 61, was a divisive political figure whose heavy-handed tenure as speaker in Tallahassee is not remembered fondly even by fellow Republicans. But he has been a lawyer for almost 37 years, is well spoken and projects an easy-going manner.
He suggests Wolfe does not efficiently manage his docket, something that contrasts markedly with Wolfe's courthouse reputation for being conscientious and responsible.
Byrd stresses that the law and politics are two "entirely different processes" and promises never to engage in judicial "activism."
But voters already have a highly regarded judge who is a model of judicial restraint and is known for being courteous, thoughtful and dedicated.
For Circuit Judge, Group 14, the Tribune recommends Mark Wolfe.