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Former prosecutor wins judicial seat, along with three incumbents

TAMPA — Hillsborough voters made former prosecutor Frances Maria Perrone a new County Court judge Tuesday and returned two incumbent County Court judges to the bench.

In the only Hillsborough Circuit Court race, voters gave Judge Mark Wolfe another six years, despite the statewide name recognition of his opponent, former Republican state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd.

Armed with a $100,000 campaign fund — more than any other candidate for County Court — Perrone, 38, won the open Group 4 judicial seat formerly held by Judge Christine K. Vogel, who did not run for re-election.

She defeated attorneys Barbara Twine, 59 — who raised nearly $80,000 — and Lanell Williams-Yulee, 47. The three rivals offered voters deep experience in the law.

Perrone, a Tampa native, is a criminal defense attorney for the Tison Law Group. From 2000 to 2005, she worked as a prosecutor in Hillsborough County. She served as lead trial attorney of a felony division and as the director of County Court. She has served as lead trial attorney in more than 85 jury trials.

The most fractious County Court race ended with voters choosing incumbent Ann Ober, 55, over attorney John Grant III, 43, in Group 3. Ober has been a County Court judge since her first election in 1996.

Both candidates were former prosecutors.

In an unusual move for typically sedate judges' races, Ober sent out mailers during the campaign reminding voters that Grant had three DUI arrests in his past. She also accused him of lying on a judicial nominating form.

Throughout, Grant characterized the arrests as regrettable youthful mistakes and cited his endorsements by conservative groups that included the National Rifle Association and the Family Defense Fund.

Ober said Tuesday night she was so anxious about the election that she stayed home with her mother and took an Alka-Seltzer when she learned she won. She had been concerned about Grant's strong political ties in Tampa — Grant's father is a former state senator and his brother is a state representative.

"I'm happy for very informed voters," she said.

Voters also returned incumbent County Court Judge Matt Lucas, 38, to the bench in Group 12. He was appointed to County Court by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010.

In this, his first election, Lucas defeated attorney Nancy Jacobs, 51. Each had a campaign fund that exceeded $80,000.

The County Court judges each make $134,280.

In the one Circuit Court race, Group 14, the challenger, Johnnie Byrd, 61, was widely known for his lively, controversial reign as state House Speaker in the early 2000s. But incumbent Judge Mark Wolfe, 56, the winner, has served on the bench in Hillsborough for 12 years.

Wolfe was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to the Hillsborough County Court in 2000, handling primarily domestic violence and DUI matters. He was then elevated by Bush to the Circuit Court in 2004.

The job pays $142,178.

John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or jbarry@tampabay.com.

Former prosecutor wins judicial seat, along with three incumbents 08/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:33am]
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