The three candidates campaigning to replace retiring Circuit Judge Raymond Gross in the Group 2 judicial election for Pinellas and Pasco all work in private practice but bring widely different life experiences.
Ken Lark, 55, worked in the medical field for many years before going to law school in his 30s. Alicia Polk, 36, worked briefly as a prosecutor before moving into private practice, where she handles civil, family and personal injury and criminal defense law. Alan Rosenthal, 43, is an avid musician and a black belt in tae kwon do, and has his own practice where he concentrates on marital and family law
Lark thought he would be in the medical field for the rest of his life. A native of Massachusetts, he started as a paramedic in college and eventually earned a nursing degree and a license that he still holds. He worked in home health care and hospital supervision, where he regularly saw mentally ill and abused patients.
"I do think it's one of those things where you start to recognize there's more that you can do," he said.
At 34, he went to law school at Florida State University. His first case as a clerk for U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore in Tampa, he said, was a medical malpractice suit. He went on to start his own practice, where he does guardianship and probate litigation, medical malpractice and health law. He is a certified family mediator, and he cites that, along with his many years in the courtroom, as strengths that would help him be a good judge. He's also involved with the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, where he volunteers as a community lawyer.
About five years ago, he married his new wife, Lynette.
Polk was born in Dade City and went to Stetson University College of Law. She worked for the State Attorney's Office as a certified law intern and then as an attorney for less than a year in 2003. From there, she went into private practice. She is a certified family mediator — a credential she has advertised on her website and mailers — but her certification lapsed last month.
Polk acknowledged she should have gotten recertified and said she planned to do it within days. As for her experience, she said it tell its own story.
"I have a diverse background in the field," she said. "I was a trial state attorney and then went into the private sector."
She has the right temperament to be a judge, she said, and knows how to work with people. Being a partner in her own firm, she said, allows her to oversee a variety of legal issues in court.
Married with two young boys, Polk said one of the most difficult moments in her life was holding her newborn son and learning he had a hearing disability.
"It made me learn how to put things in perspective," she said.
She's the president of the Academy at the Farm Charter School's parent teacher organization, which raises funds for the school, and she serves on its board. She's active in the community as well, organizing events like the Pasco Touch-a-Truck fundraiser.
Rosenthal was born in the Bronx and grew up in Coral Springs. He also went to Stetson Law School. He has been a lawyer for more than 16 years, practicing criminal, civil, probate, dependency, personal injury, foreclosure defense and bankruptcy law.
"Out of the three candidates running," he said, "I have the most experience."
He likens being a lawyer to learning how to drive a car — at first, it's difficult and you drive with blinders on. But as experience grows, you learn to recognize the nuances and grow comfortable and confident. He's ready, he said, to take the next step in his career and put all his experience to good use.
Rosenthal is married with two children. He's a musician, a martial artist, a member of Shriner's International and a woodworker. The hardest thing he's ever gone through, he said, was watching his mother fight breast cancer. The experience made him question his own mortality, he said, and helped him to focus on what's important.
"Thankfully," he said, "she's still with us."
The three candidates will appear on the Aug. 26 primary ballot. If none gets a majority of votes — 50 percent plus one — the top two finishers will face a runoff on Nov. 4.
News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Jon Silman at (727) 869-6229 or Jsilman@tampabay.com. Follow @Jonsilman1.