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Hillsborough judicial candidate violates campaign rules

TAMPA — Two months after signing up to run for county judge in 2010, first-time candidate Lanell Williams-Yulee has blundered into a basic canon of judicial campaigning.

Her campaign recently sent out a letter in which the lawyer appears to be personally seeking campaign contributions, a no-no for judicial candidates.

"To succeed in this effort, I need to mount an aggressive campaign," reads the letter, which includes the lawyer's signature and personal e-mail address. "I ask for your support in meeting the primary election fundraiser goals."

The same letter shows up on the home page of the candidate's Web site, minus the signature.

But the rules for judicial candidates are clear: They are not allowed to personally solicit campaign funds. They may instead create committees that are responsible for seeking donations and managing how the money is spent.

"That letter is a violation," said Stetson University political science professor T. Wayne Bailey. "It should be an embarrassment to her."

During a short phone interview Tuesday, Williams-Yulee said she complied with the rules.

"That's all I really have to say about that," she said.

She left it to her new campaign manager, Rodney Burrell, to provide further details. According to Burrell, members of Williams-Yulee's committee drafted the letter "in hopes of making it look personalized." They weren't well-versed in all the restrictions that judicial candidates face, he said.

The letter includes appropriate language at the bottom stating that Williams-Yulee paid for and approved the political advertisement.

"She definitely didn't write the letter, but she did sign it," he said.

Burrell, hired by the candidate Monday, said he planned to revise the wording, including switching to third-person voice.

"This is her first time running as judge," he noted.

The campaign letter also says Williams-Yulee served as "Public Defender." In reality, she spent about six years as an assistant public defender, not as the elected public defender, in Hillsborough County. Her online resume includes the proper title.

On Tuesday, Williams-Yulee told a Times reporter there was no incumbent for the position she's seeking, though County Judge Dick Greco Jr. currently holds it.

"It is an open seat," she said.

But Greco, appointed to the Group 10 slot this year after another judge retired, considers himself an incumbent.

"If he's there filling someone else's term, then he is the incumbent," said Sigrid Tidmore, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough supervisor of elections. "He's duly filling that office."

Greco said he intends to run for the seat next year and expects to file his paperwork soon. The official qualifying period isn't until April.

Williams-Yulee was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1991. A graduate of Mississippi College School of Law, she worked for three years as a prosecutor with the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office.

Now a private attorney, she represents one of the Walker Middle School teens charged with sexual assault.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Hillsborough judicial candidate violates campaign rules 11/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 7:26am]
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