ST. PETERSBURG — Longtime Pinellas lawyer John "Jack" Helinger got a long-awaited phone call Friday from Gov. Charlie Crist: "He said 'Jack, I'm calling to make you a circuit judge.' "
Helinger said "those were some obviously very, very special words that will be ingrained in my mind forever."
It was especially welcome news because Helinger had been a finalist for judicial positions six other times. He said he felt "humbled and honored to accept the incredible responsibility bestowed upon a circuit judge."
That's a responsibility he knows something about, because his wife, Chris, already is a circuit judge.
He said having a two-judge family will "allow us both to better appreciate the demands, the pressures and the importance of the position. I think it will be a great help rather than any hindrance."
Helinger said that after Crist gave him the news, the two talked about the importance of being public servants. Helinger said he has known Crist since the governor was an intern in the State Attorney's Office years ago.
Crist selected Helinger over St. Petersburg lawyer Thomas Minkoff, former general counsel of the Pinellas Republican Party, who has done pro-bono work for Gulf Coast Legal Services in recent years.
Helinger, 57, is a graduate of Georgia Tech and Stetson School of Law.
He is a former prosecutor and experienced litigator. He said in his application that he had tried more than 175 jury trials, 60 nonjury trials, and 75 cases before administrative bodies in his career.
Several judges and prominent attorneys endorsed Helinger.
Robert J. Morris Jr., chief judge of the circuit, wrote that Helinger "could be the single most experienced litigator (both civil and criminal) in Pinellas County."