Having fair and impartial jurists with the right temperament and necessary legal acumen is essential to our legal system. In Florida, circuit court judges preside over felony criminal trials and civil lawsuits with damages exceeding $15,000. They have the power to sentence defendants to death, award monetary damages and decide child custody disputes.
Yesterday we made our judicial endorsements in Hillsborough. Today we offer our recommendations for the 6th Judicial Circuit of Pinellas and Pasco counties. Voters will cast ballots in five circuit court races. Because the races are nonpartisan, a winner will be determined in the Aug. 26th primary in the four races with only two candidates. In the remaining race, three candidates are running, and the winner must capture more than 50 percent of the vote or face a runoff Nov. 6 against the second-place finisher.
In making recommendations in judicial races, we interview the candidates, talk to their peers and evaluate their professional experience and community involvement to determine which candidates have the appropriate skills and self-discipline to handle the job.
Two solid candidates are running to replace Circuit Judge Lauren Laughlin, who is retiring. Susan St. John, 40, is an Army veteran who has distinguished herself as a gang prosecutor for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office. She has been involved in over 100 felony trials and provides pro-bono work for the juvenile drug court.
Laura Snell, 34, supervises the juvenile division for the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender’s Office and is an adjunct professor of child advocacy law at Stetson. She has handled civil and criminal trials and practiced family law in private practice. She is president of Pinellas PACE Center for Girls.
Both are appealing candidates, but St. John’s military service and success as a prosecutor make her the better choice. For Circuit Judge, Group 1, the Tribune recommends Susan St. John.
Three candidates with differing backgrounds are vying to replace Circuit Judge Raymond Gross, who is retiring. Ken Lark, 55, worked as a paramedic and registered nurse before earning his law degree and practicing in St. Petersburg. He is a mediator in divorce, paternity, foreclosure and general civil matters and a Habitat for Humanity volunteer. He organized forums to help homeowners during the foreclosure crisis.
Alicia Polk, 36, is a former prosecutor for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office who works for a private firm in Dade City representing a large bank, a car dealership and other businesses. She has handled over 60 trials and has also worked as a defense attorney and handled family law and civil litigation. She serves on the board of the Academy at the Farm Charter School.
Alan Rosenthal, 43, is in private practice in St. Petersburg specializing in marital and family law. He says good lawyers put their clients in a non-litigation mode to avoid the turmoil associated with a trial. He is involved with the philanthropic Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons of Florida.
Polk stands out in the race because of her diverse legal experience and time spent in the courtroom. For Circuit Judge, Group 2, the Tribune recommends Alicia Polk.
In Group 16, two candidates are running to replace Circuit Judge Walt Logan, who is retiring. Brian Battaglia, 53, is in private practice in St. Petersburg and has practiced law in the area for nearly 30 years, handling a range of civil cases. He is a certified mediator in family law. He has argued before the Florida Supreme Court and been a recipient of the Florida Bar President’s pro bono award for the 6th Circuit. He serves on the UPARC Foundation board.
Kim Sharpe, 33, is a partner with a respected Clearwater firm who has participated in dozens of civil trials. She has presented oral arguments before the federal appeals court in Atlanta and the state appeals court in the Tampa area. She is a board member for the Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project.
Battaglia has practiced law for decades, but Sharpe has compiled an impressive courtroom resume in a short period of time. For Circuit Judge, Group 16, the Tribune recommends Kim Sharpe.
A former prosecutor and a current prosecutor are running to replace Circuit Judge Stanley Mills, who is retiring. Amanda Colon, 38, worked as a prosecutor for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office handling sexual battery cases, and as an assistant state attorney general handling appeals. She runs a private practice in Port Richey and is a certified mediator in marital and family law. She is president of the West Pasco Bar Association, and vice chair of the Pace Center for Girls Inc.
Phil Matthey, 37, is a prosecutor with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office who handles felony cases including murder, sex offenses and drugs. Before earning his law degree, he worked as a deputy sheriff in Orlando. He teaches the U.S. Constitution to fifth-graders in Wesley Chapel and is a committee member for the conservation group Ducks Unlimited.
Matthey’s experience on the street as a deputy and in the courtroom as a prosecutor make him an appealing candidate. In Circuit Judge, Group 21, the Tribune recommends Phil Matthey.
In this race, a long-serving circuit judge is being challenged by an attorney in private practice. Bruce Boyer, 67, was elected to the bench in 1990 and has been assigned to each of the court’s divisions over the years, including criminal and probate. He has presided over more than 200 criminal trials.
His opponent, Jon Newlon, 41, practices family law and says he is challenging Boyer, in part, because state law will prevent the judge from completing the six-year term when he turns 70.
Boyer is a capable judge who has served the community well for nearly 25 years. If he wins and retires at age 70, the governor will appoint a replacement who will later stand for election, a relatively common circumstance. Boyer can then serve as a senior judge after retirement, which he would not be able to if he isn’t re-elected. There is no reason the public should lose out on his valuable bench experience. For Circuit Judge, Group 35, we recommend Bruce Boyer.