Incumbent Pinellas-Pasco judge surprised to get a challenger

Group 45

Just a few weeks ago, Assistant State Attorney Agnes Theresa McCabe was assigned to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Jack Day's courtroom, handling cases of kids considered abused or neglected.

Now McCabe is running for judge of Group 45, seeking the very seat Day holds.

It's relatively rare for local incumbent judges to draw challengers. Day acknowledged he was surprised by the challenge, especially because he believed he had a "cordial, professional relationship" with McCabe.

Judicial rules prevent candidates from attacking each other, but McCabe said she would offer a "positive, more balanced temperament" on the bench. She did not make any specific criticism of Day.

For his part, Day said he works hard to run a fair courtroom. "I try to have people leave feeling like they've had their say, even if they don't get the outcome they wanted," he said.

The Day-McCabe race adds a little drama to the typically low-key business of running for judge in the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit.

Because of judicial rules, candidates are essentially limited to talking about their own resumes and personal qualities.

Day, 63, of St. Petersburg, was elected in 2006 and is proud of receiving the "Excellence in Child Welfare Services Award" this year from the state Department of Children and Families. He also points to his experience, not only as a judge but also as a board-certified civil trial lawyer and as a mediator.

Day received undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida and has been a lawyer since 1977. He is married and has four grown children in a blended family.

McCabe is an assistant state attorney specializing in dependency cases concerning the child welfare system. She is not related to the head of the office, State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

She also has worked in criminal law as a prosecutor in Pasco County and in Georgia, and briefly as a public defender in Hillsborough County.

McCabe, 55, of Largo, who is single, graduated from Emory University with a degree in history and from the University of Denver law school and has been a lawyer since 1984.

Here is a look at some of the other candidates running for Pinellas-Pasco judge positions — although there's still time for others to jump in. The election will be Aug. 14 and a runoff, if necessary, would be Nov. 6.

Group 11

Tom Ramsberger ran for circuit judge in 2010 and "I was very pleased to have gotten 49 percent of the vote." Now he's running again and hoping for at least a few extra percentage points. So far no one else is running for this seat.

With 24 years' experience as a lawyer handling commercial law, litigation, probate, family law, mediation and other work, "I'm at that point in my legal career where I believe I have a lot to offer to the judiciary in terms of my experience, my demeanor. It's the right time to be giving back."

Ramsberger is another candidate with a family connection to the bench — his brother Peter is a circuit judge. But he stresses his own community involvement with a variety of organizations. Ramsberger, 49, of St. Petersburg, is married, has three children and has undergraduate and law degrees from Florida State University.

Group 15

Bill Burgess wrote the book Florida Sentencing explaining criminal sentencing laws and believes he has the kind of in-depth legal knowledge that makes him well-qualified.

Burgess is board-certified in criminal law and "for the 16 years I've been at the State Attorney's Office, I've personally investigated thousands of cases. I've dealt face-to-face with thousands of members of our community." His cases include a drug defendant he helped track down in Europe.

Burgess is a former Army officer, serving in military intelligence and Special Forces, and earned his law degree from American University while in the service. He also has an undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts. Burgess, 59, of Seminole, is married and has two grown children.

Andy Steingold says judges need to be skilled at listening and have the right demeanor — two qualities he said he has honed as a city commissioner and now mayor in Safety Harbor.

But Steingold said he also has broad legal experience that would help him as well. He was a prosecutor in Hillsborough County and also has been a defense attorney. He has handled family law cases, medical malpractice and nursing home litigation.

He said people should have "a fair and impartial opportunity to present their case" and that judges should follow the law in presiding over those cases. Steingold, 51, is married with three children. He graduated from the University of South Florida and the Cumberland School of Law and has been a lawyer since 1987.

Group 31

Brian Battaglia says "I have a lot of experience in the law and I also have a lot of community experience." Together, he says, this has given him "a well-rounded view of the process and how it impacts people."

Battaglia has spent 25 years as a lawyer handling commercial law, civil litigation, health care, employment, real estate, and land use related matters. He is at Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & Wein, a well-known law firm founded by his father, Anthony Battaglia.

He also pointed to extensive civic involvement including 18 years with the Community Law Program, where he has been president, plus serving as an attorney ad litem on Belleair's Planning and Zoning Board and in numerous other organizations. Battaglia, 51, graduated from Florida State University and the Drake University Law School. He is married with two sons.

Kimberly "Kim" Campbell says she has varied experience in the law, including handling criminal matters, as well as family law and some personal injury cases. She also has been a special master for a construction licensing board and a guardian ad litem in cases involving the child welfare system. "The varied experience gives me kind of a unique position," that would be helpful as a judge, she said. "I think that gives you a different perspective." Her campaign slogan: caring, engaged and real.

She also stressed her community involvement, including serving as Clearwater Bar Association president and as a Merit Badge counselor for the Boy Scouts. Campbell, 42, of Palm Harbor, is married with one son. She graduated from Milligan College and the Stetson University College of Law and has been a lawyer since 2001.

Incumbent Pinellas-Pasco judge surprised to get a challenger 03/03/12 [Last modified: Sunday, March 4, 2012 3:23pm]

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