TAMPA — Hillsborough County voters were asked to select four new circuit court judges Tuesday but will have to finish the job in November because no one captured more than 50 percent of the vote in two races.
With one exception, voters rejected judicial bids by candidates with high-profile names. Former Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder came in last in a three-way race to replace retiring Judge James Arnold.
Former Hillsborough Chief Assistant State Attorney Karen Stanley, 58, lost a tight race against Laura Ward, 34.
And well-known lawyer Norman S. Cannella Jr., 45, lost his bid to unseat Hillsborough County Judge Chris Nash, 42, the only incumbent judge on the county’s ballot. Nash was appointed to the bench last year.
Only former state Rep. Michael Scionti, 45, parlayed his high public profile into a decisive win over Michael John Brannigan, 45, for the Group 19 Circuit Court bench to replace retiring Chief Judge Manny Menendez Jr. Scionti served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2006 to 2009. He also was a senior diplomat for the State Department and former deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Defense.
Nash and Scionti had the most votes of any judicial candidates in the county Tuesday, garnering the most decisive victories.
The Stanley/Ward race was the tightest of all the contested judicial elections. Ward started the night with a razor-thin lead and managed to widen it a bit as more votes were counted.
The closeness of the race was also evident before the election when the county bar polled lawyers, who gave both women similar ratings. For example, 60 percent highly approved of Ward, and 59 percent highly approved of Stanley.
Beating Dingfelder in the race for the Group 8 circuit court seat was first-place vote getter Barbara Twine Thomas, who will face off in the runoff against second place candidate Carl C. Hinson in November.
Group 34 Candidate Robert Bauman, 54, will face off in November against Melissa “Missy” Polo, 45, to replace retiring Judge James Barton II. Third-place vote getter Constance Daniels will not appear on the November ballot.
All 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 city councilman and party activist and Scionti as a state House member.
Judicial candidates are restricted in their campaign activities, limited mainly to talking about their qualifications and experience and barred from talking about how they might rule on issues.
Ward is the daughter of retired Judge Ed Ward. She is the second relatively young daughter of a judge to win a circuit court judgeship in the county. Ashley Moody, the daughter of U.S. District Court Judge James D. Moody, was elected in 2007.
Thomas, 61, credited her early start in the race - she says she first filed to run in April 2013 - with her strong lead in a three-way race against Dingfelder, 57, and Hinson, 54. “I think getting out there and meeting voters longer makes a big difference,” she said.
Hinson said he was with about 175 supporters at a watch party at the Floridan Hotel and they were “ready to hit the ground tomorrow” to continue the campaign for the runoff.