Having fair and impartial jurists with the necessary temperament and 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 impose the death penalty, send people to prison, determine the terms of a divorce and decide whether a child should be taken from his or her parents.
On the other hand, county court judges handle misdemeanors, municipal code violations and civil actions of less than $15,000.
Circuit and county judges serve six-year terms.
Because the races are nonpartisan, a winner will be determined in the Aug. 26 primary unless a candidate in a race with more than two others fails to capture more than 50 percent of the vote. In that case, a runoff between the top two candidates will be held during the general election Nov. 6.
In making recommendations in judicial races, we interview the candidates, talk to their colleagues and evaluate their professional experience and community involvement to determine which ones have the appropriate skills and self-discipline to best handle the job.
In the 13th Circuit Court, which encompasses all of Hillsborough County, voters will cast ballots in four circuit court races and a single county court contest.
All three candidates vying to replace retiring Circuit Judge James D. Arnold are experienced, intelligent and personable.
Former Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder, 57, has worked in private practice and as a public defender, county attorney and the local ACLU attorney.
Carl Hinson, 54, has been a lawyer for 27 years, mostly handling personal injury cases, and has vast trial experience.
Barbara Twine Thomas, 61, has been a lawyer for 30 years, working in private practice and for the city and county. She’s primarily a civil litigator but has criminal experience as well.
Thomas is involved in mentoring young people and has received national recognition from the NAACP for her community work.
We believe all three would be capable judges, but we give the edge to Thomas, who has run for the bench before. She has broad experience, plus a measured, thoughtful demeanor. She also would add diversity to the local judiciary. For Circuit Court, Group 8, the Tribune recommends Barbara Twine Thomas.
In the race to replace retiring Circuit Judge Manny Menendez Jr., the circuit’s chief jurist, former state representative and Pentagon official Michael Scionti faces Michael John Brannigan, the primary city attorney for Crystal River.
Both candidates are 45 and experienced lawyers.
But Scionti’s record of service in and out of the courtroom is singularly impressive.
He has been a prosecutor in the Hillsborough State Attorney Office, an assistant statewide prosecutor and assistant attorney general. He also has operated a private practice.
As member of the U.S. Army Reserves, Scionti volunteered to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan and saw action in the field and in the military courtroom.
As a military magistrate in Afghanistan, Scionti oversaw hundreds of military tribunals and detention hearings, often determining whether captives merited prisoner of war status.
After leaving the Legislature, he worked at the Pentagon and then the U.S. State Department, efficiently executing both his military and diplomatic duties.
Scionti, a Bronze Star recipient, astutely handled daunting legal challenges in war-torn nations.
The Tampa native is exceptionally well prepared for the judiciary.
For Circuit Court, Group 19, The Tampa Tribune strongly recommends Michael Scionti.
Voters must choose between two appealing candidates in a race that will decide the replacement for retiring Circuit Judge Sam Pendino.
Laura Ward is 34, but despite her youth has a notable record of legal work and community service. She works for a private firm, handling business disputes in both state and federal court and has extensive appellate experience. She also has been recognized by the Florida Bar for her pro bono work.
Karen Stanley, 58, has been a lawyer for 25 years. The bulk of her tenure has been at the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office, where she has tried hundreds of diverse cases. She also has held a number of supervisory positions. For more than 12 years she served as chief assistant state attorney, overseeing nearly 300 employees. She left that post to run for judge.
Stanley has earned a reputation for being intelligent, thorough, hard-working and fair. She is highly regarded by those who have worked with her.
Sheriff David Gee; her former boss, State Attorney Mark Ober; and Public Defender Julie Holt are among those who have endorsed the Tampa native.
We believe Ward, who is running an energetic campaign, would be a good judge. But Stanley’s experience and record of achievement make her our choice.
For Circuit Court, Group 20, the Tribune endorses Karen Stanley.
Three lawyers want to replace retiring Circuit Judge James Barton in Group 34.
Constance Daniels, 47, operates a private practice, focusing on family law and criminal law.
Melissa “Missy” Polo, 45, has worked at the state attorney’s office and a number of private firms.
She now runs her own firm, specializing in personal injury cases, particularly medical negligence and nursing home abuse. She possesses a thoughtful, deliberate manner appropriate for the bench.
Robert Bauman, 54, has the most experience, with nearly 29 years as a lawyer.
A public defender early in his career, Bauman has been in private practice since 1985, specializing in civil litigation. He also is a mediator.
In addition, he served as the soccer coach for 26 years at Jesuit High School, where he won five state championships. He resigned that position to run for judge.
The engaging Bauman says the fact that he could manage a successful legal career and still carve out time to coach testifies to his time-management skills, which are essential for the bench. He is well respected in the legal community.
Bauman’s superior experience and mature outlook give him the edge. In Circuit Court Group 34, the Tribune recommends Robert Bauman.
County Judge, Group 12
In this race, Norman S. Cannella Jr. is challenging County Judge Chris Nash, who was appointed to the bench in May 2013.
Cannella, 45, is the son of highly regarded criminal defense attorney Norman Cannella Sr., but there is more than a familiar name on his resume. Cannella Jr., who has practiced mostly criminal law since 1996, has plenty of courtroom experience.
Nash, 42, has been a lawyer for 16 years. Prior to his appointment to the bench, he successfully handled a variety of complex civil cases, including bankruptcies and consumer litigation.
He also became a certified mediator.
But what is most significant here is that by all accounts, Nash has done an outstanding job on the bench since his appointment. He is known for being intelligent, efficient and fair.
Nash has proved he can handle the job. For Hillsborough County Judge, Group 12, the Tribune endorses Chris Nash.
Candidates not endorsed by the Tribune are welcome to reply. Rebuttals, which should not exceed 150 words, can be emailed to [email protected]
On Monday: Our recommendations for the bench in Pinellas and Pasco counties.