TAMPA — Gov. Charlie Crist skipped over three Hillsborough judges slated as finalists for the 2nd District Court of Appeal, choosing instead a Pinellas judge whose husband already sits on the appellate bench.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nelly Khouzam will replace E.J. Salcines, who is retiring in July.
She joins her husband, Morris Silberman, a judge since 2001, on the 14-judge panel that serves 14 counties, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco.
To avoid any conflicts of interest, Khouzam said, the couple won't hear any cases together, and will work out of different offices — Silberman in Tampa, Khouzam in Lakeland.
"So long as they don't serve on the same appellate panel, there shouldn't be an ethical problem," said Christopher Slobogin, a University of Florida law professor.
Khouzam, 49, was interviewed Monday afternoon by Gov. Charlie Crist in Tampa.
That came as a bit of a surprise to the three Hillsborough circuit judges Crist interviewed in Tallahassee last week. Judges Anthony Black, Marva Crenshaw and Richard Nielsen were assumed to be the finalists for the job.
Then Crist added Khouzam to the mix. A judge in Crist's home county since 1994, she also had been on the six-person short list forwarded to the governor by the local Judicial Nominating Commission.
The Governor's Office announced her selection Tuesday.
"Judge Khouzam has a deep respect for the law, and she will bring tremendous legal knowledge to the 2nd District Court of Appeal," Crist said in a prepared statement. "I am confident she will serve with honor and impartiality."
For the trilingual, Egyptian-born Khouzam, the appointment is a "dream come true."
After receiving her law degree from the University of Florida in 1981, she spent two years as a 2nd District Court of Appeal clerk. She also has served as an associate judge on for the appellate court, filling in on cases for judges who were sick or otherwise unavailable.
"This was my dream, that some day it would be great coming back as a (full-time) judge," she said, her voice bubbling with excitement.
Khouzam, named Florida Jurist of the Year in 2002 by the Florida chapters of the American Board of Trial Advocates, currently hears civil cases at the Clearwater courthouse.
Before being named to the circuit bench by Gov. Lawton Chiles, she worked as a partner for the large Fowler White law firm and then in a smaller practice with her husband. They have a daughter.
Black, one of the Hillsborough judges who didn't get the appellate nod, said the governor made a fine choice.
"Judge Khouzam is a very good and reputable judge, and I'm sure she'll do a great job," he said.
Staff writer Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler contributed to this report. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.