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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014

Castor, Bilirakis to face no opposition in re-election bids


­­— Hillsborough County will see several competitive judicial races, but less competition for congressional seats, as result of candidate filings this week.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor will both return to new terms in Congress with no opposition because no one filed to run against them by the noon Friday deadline.

Republican Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland faces a challenge from a former investigative reporter for a local television station, Alan Cohn. Republican Tom Rooney of Okeechobee will see another challenge from the Democrat he easily defeated in 2010, Will Bronson of LeHigh Acres.

Judicial races will be a bit more competitive, including two or more candidates in each of four open seats for circuit judges.

As is often the case, no incumbent circuit judge drew a challenger, so only those four judgeships will be on the ballot, while 23 incumbent judges will be returned to the bench without opposition.

In the four contested circuit judge races:

♦ Former Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder is running against Carl C. Hinson Barbara Twine Thomas for the Group 8 seat, replacing retiring Judge James D. Arnold.

Former state Rep. Michael Scionti will face Michael John Brannigan for the Group 19 seat, replacing retiring Chief Judge Manny Menendez Jr.

Former prosecutor Karen Stanley will face Laura Ward for the Group 20 seat, replacing retiring Judge Sam Pendino.

Robert Bauman. Constance Daniels and Melissa “Missy” Polo will compete for the Group 34 seat, replacing retiring Judge James Barton II.

At the county court level, there will be one competitive race. Norman S. Cannella Jr. and Chris Nash will compete for the group 12 seat.

All the judicial candidates are practicing lawyers and by law, all run without party affiliation, although at least two, Dingfelder and Scionti, have histories of political involvement as Democrats -- Dingfelder as a party activist and Scionti as a state House member.

Castor has never faced strong Republican competition in her district. The district includes areas of central St. Petersburg and South Shore along with most of Tampa.

In 2012, she beat Evelio Otero 70-30 percent.

Bilirakis’s district includes the northwestern corner of Hillsborough County.

Ross’s 15th district covers most of the eastern half of Hillsborough County. A former state House member long active in the Republican Party, he won the seat over Polk County elections Supervisor Lori Edwards in 2010 and was unopposed in 2012.

Cohn is making his first run for public office after leaving Tampa’s ABC affiliate WFTS, Channel 28, in June 2012.

Rooney’s district covers part or all of 10 counties, stretching from Glades and Okeechobee to Polk and parts of southern Hillsborough.

A lawyer, he narrowly unseated former Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney in 2008 and was re-elected since. He’s a Philadelphia native and a member of the family that owns the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Barton, a Chicago native, former naval aviator and airline pilot and a motivational speaker, lost to Rooney 59 percent to 41 percent in 2012.

In the Group 34 judicial race, Bauman is former head coach of the Jesuit High School varsity soccer team with a law practice specializing in banking and finance. Daniels is an active community volunteer and former assistant public defender and works with the state Office of Regional Counsel, which represents indigent defendants; Polo is a former prosecutor who now specializes in personal injury and malpractice litigation.

In Group 20, Stanley is former head of the sex crimes and child abuse section of the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office, and former chief assistant to State Attorney Mark Ober; Ward, a member of the large DLA Piper law firm, is active in pro bono work, including founding and heading a free legal clinic for veterans at James A. Haley VA Hospital.

In Group 19, Scionti has a long resume including serving as an assistant state attorney, assistant attorney general, and a military magistrate, diplomat aned Bronze Star winner while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and Iraq. Brannigan, with the Hogan Law Firm, has worked in criminal and civil law in several counties in the Tampa area and is city attorney for Crystal River.

In Group 8, Dingfelder is a former public defender with civil and criminal experience who served from 2003-2010 on the Tampa City Council; Hinson is a Tampa native and personal injury lawyer with 27 years’ experience; Thomas formerly worked for Hillsborough County attorney’s office and for the Department of Justice in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and has done general practice in Tampa since 2001.



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