Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

Johnnie Byrd plots comeback, this time as a judge

When Johnnie Byrd left Tallahassee after serving as House speaker eight years ago, the judgments were not kind — from his peers or the public.

Now Speaker Byrd wants to be Judge Byrd.

"I feel the call to public service," Byrd says. "I know that I can be the best circuit judge Hillsborough County has ever had."

He wasn't the best speaker Florida has ever had.

In Tallahassee, Byrd hired 13 communications specialists at a cost of $600,000.

He ran for the U.S. Senate while he was speaker, and got 6 percent of the primary vote.

He punished Republicans who refused to back him on an election-year phone-rate freeze.

He said House members were so docile they acted like "sheep." Lobbyists mocked him by wearing plastic sheep masks on the last night of his final session.

Byrd championed social issues as speaker. He fought for state intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, backed a parental-notice abortion law and sponsored Florida's ban on same-sex marriages.

As a partisan Republican legislator, Byrd criticized the "liberal justices" on the state Supreme Court.

Termed out of office in 2004, he went back to Plant City to practice law. Now, as a candidate for a seat on the circuit bench in Hillsborough, he promises to be "faithful to the law" (that's on his website, johnniebyrd.com).

Ten trial court judges in the Tampa circuit are up for re-election this fall, but only one drew opposition: Mark Wolfe, 56, appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2004.

Wolfe was a finalist for a spot on the 2nd District Court of Appeal two years ago. He, like Byrd, is a registered Republican.

Byrd has appeared in front of Wolfe several times at the courthouse in Plant City, an experience he calls "somewhat disappointing."

"He (Wolfe) would say stuff like, 'I've got 2,000 cases,' like he was too busy," Byrd said. "He was acting like he was doing everybody a favor by being out here. He was disorganized, inconsistent and unavailable."

What most irked Byrd, he said, was calling Wolfe's office for a court date and hearing a message that he says went along the lines of, "We're out. Don't leave a message. Call us next week."

Wolfe says he doesn't recall what message Byrd is talking about, but his court assistant was told to leave a message that she would return calls when she was able.

He says he routinely stayed late to sign search warrants and handle other duties.

"My reputation as far as handling a court and being a judge is excellent," Wolfe said. "And Mr. Byrd would regularly come by and say hi to my judicial assistant, and at no time did he ever indicate he was having difficulty getting court time."

Asked to assess Byrd's record as House speaker from 2002-2004, Wolfe said: "No, I don't think that would be appropriate."

A circuit judge's salary will be $142,178 as of July 1.

Byrd's financial disclosure form shows he earned $81,157 last year from his firm, Byrd & Barnhill, but he sees the bench as his true calling.

"This is where I can make a difference and I can really excel," Byrd said, "and the really good thing about it is that it's nonpartisan."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
U.S. government shuts down; Democrats, GOP blame each other

U.S. government shuts down; Democrats, GOP blame each other

WASHINGTON — The federal government shut down at the stroke of midnight Friday, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in a striking display of Washington dysfunctio...
Updated: 3 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Jan. 19

Friday’s scoreboardBoys soccerIndian Rocks Christian 2, Lakewood 1Lennard 3, Spoto 0Girls soccerPCAC Championship: Largo 3, Osceola 1Lennard 8, Spoto 0
Updated: 4 hours ago

Four people linked to Tampa carjacking captured hours later

TAMPA — It took officers just 27 minutes Friday night to capture four people who they said stole a car from its owner.The incident started outside the Ybor Coffee Shop at 5:45 a.m. A group approached the driver as he sat in his 2010 Toyota Corolla. T...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

The state has opened an investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, days after the Tampa Bay Times asked about whether the two regional job centers were inflating the number of people they had helped get hired. The agencies, ...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Florida National Guard soldier killed, five injured in Sebring crash

SEBRING — A soldier with the Florida National Guard was killed and five others were hospitalized after a multi-vehicle crash on Friday, officials said.The crash took place at about 1 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Hammock Road.The soldiers ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two New Port Richey men face charges after Pasco County deputies say they stole about $11,000 worth of cellphones and cellphone equipment at a Metro PCS store on State Road 54.Robert Jackson and Ronald Hartshorn were arrested Wednes...
Updated: 6 hours ago
U.S. Attorney: Tampa woman uses soul food restaurant as part of scheme to steals thousands

U.S. Attorney: Tampa woman uses soul food restaurant as part of scheme to steals thousands

TAMPA — The owner of a soul and seafood restaurant is facing more than 10 years in federal prison for filing dozens of false tax returns and stealing thousands of dollars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.Natalie Rene Panko, 57, owner of Ladie...
Updated: 6 hours ago
That noise you hear from MacDill is low-flying A-10 Warthogs in training

That noise you hear from MacDill is low-flying A-10 Warthogs in training

TAMPA — If you hear loud noises coming from MacDill Air Force Base over the next few days, don’t be alarmed.It’s the sound of flying hogs.A squadron of A-10C Warthogs, beloved by troops in the field for their ability to swoop low and slow and tear ap...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

When former Major League Baseball pitcher Roy Halladay died in a plane crash in November, he had amphetamines, morphine and the sleep aid zolpidem in his system, according to an autopsy report.Halladay, 40, died from blunt force trauma with drowning ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

ST. PETERSBURG — Holding a piece of computer paper and a microphone, the leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg began a Friday afternoon forum by repeating the USF administration’s new mantra.He reassured the crowd before him that t...
Updated: 7 hours ago