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6th Judicial Circuit Judge, group 1

Circuit Judge | Group 1

A prosecutor and a public defender are competing for the nonpartisan 6th Judicial Circuit, Group 1 vacancy. The winner will replace Judge Lauren Laughlin. Katie Mettler, Times staff writer

Susan St. John, 40


Laura Snell, 34

public defender

Experience St. John joined the Army straight out of high school and left when she was 23 to study at the University of Florida. She has been a trial lawyer for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office since 2004 and has conducted more than 100 trials. St. John is a certified Florida criminal justice instructor. Snell has been a senior assistant public defender in the 6th Judicial Circuit's juvenile division since 2012. Before that, she was an assistant public defender for seven years and spent a year in private practice doing estate planning and family law. She has conducted more than 40 trials in circuit court.
Involvement From 1991 to 1997, St. John served as a parachute rigger for the Army. She does not serve in any official capacities on boards or charities, but has volunteered with the Special Olympics and Police Benevolent Association. She was named 2012 Prosecutor of the Year for the 6th Judicial Circuit and 2013 Prosecutor of the Year by the Florida Gang Investigator's Association. An adjunct professor at Stetson University College of Law since 2012, Snell is also president of the Pinellas PACE Center for Girls board of directors and on the Leadership Pinellas board of directors. She has worked on numerous juvenile initiatives through the public defender's office.
What makes you the best candidate? "There are three things that people should look at when deciding who to vote for, and the first is jury trial experience. I have over 100 trials. The other two are life experience and the appropriate courtroom demeanor. Dealing with life experience, people are coming to court because they're having a problem. … They need someone who has lived life a little bit, who understands the stress of things that happen in people's lives. I left home at a young age to join the Army, and when I was 20 I started my family. My son was born and I left the Army when I was 23 and went to the University of Florida on the GI Bill. That life experience has made me more well rounded." "I definitely believe that my legal experience separates me from my opponent. I have experience in both private practice and working for the government, and several other areas in which she does not, and I think that's important."
Describe your community service "I did some work with juvenile drug court, which is a diversion program. It's like any other drug court, but it's aimed toward young people. I did some work for the Special Olympics to help them raise money and I did some work for the PBA to help them raise money. I don't have any formal role on any charities, but I do charitable work, usually with the Special Olympics. With my son being a Special Olympian, that's near and dear to my heart." "I think that's the other thing that separates me, my involvement in the community. I'm the president of the PACE Center for girls and that's really important to me. I'm an advocate for children in all aspects of my life, and also work with AMI Kids Pinellas, Leadership Kids Pinellas and the Clearwater Bar Association."
How has your legal experience prepared you for the circuit judge position? "Judges are in court, and they're in court every day, so it's important that lawyers who are trying to be judges have experience in the courtroom, and I am in court every day. The rules of evidence do not change — whether you're in criminal, civil or probate court — so judges need to be versed in the rules of evidence. We expect judges to make lawful and fair decisions, and the way you get a hold on that is experience." "I think having the diversity of legal practice would allow me to walk into any courtroom and be ready to sit on the bench. Also, as an assistant public defender, for the majority of my career, I've been in the courtroom almost every single day."
Personal St. John lives in St. Petersburg. She will be running her eighth marathon this fall. Snell lives in Largo. She is a dog lover and has been scuba diving for more than 20 years.

About the job: Circuit judges hear felony cases, probate and family law issues as well as civil disputes involving damages of more than $15,000. They serve six-year terms and are paid $142,178 a year.

6th Judicial Circuit Judge, group 1 08/22/14 [Last modified: Friday, August 22, 2014 3:15pm]
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