TAMPA — Circuit Judge J. Kevin Carey's campaign signs promise "Service & Integrity."
After a Memorial Day encounter with the incumbent judge, a well-known courthouse couple is questioning whether that slogan fits.
Lawyer Norman Cannella Sr. and his wife, Lynn, a court reporter, are vocal supporters of Carey's opponent, family law attorney Catherine Catlin.
Last week, Norman Cannella noticed that his Bayshore Boulevard neighbor, Mike Shea, a fellow lawyer, had erected Carey's sign in his yard. Cannella made a pitch for Shea to back Catlin instead.
Shea accepted a Catlin sign and promptly made the switch. He did so, he said, out of deference to his "dear friend" Cannella and not because of any ill feelings toward the judge.
"Next thing I know, the judge is knocking on my door," Shea said Monday.
Carey, who lives in a gated community a half-mile away, asked why Shea replaced his sign. Shea said he made the change at his neighbor's urging. Shea said the judge was upset but acted like a gentleman. With his 10-year-old son waiting in the car, the judge headed next door to the Cannella home.
Catlin, who happened to be dining with the Cannellas, greeted Carey at the door about 8 p.m.
Carey calls what happened next "much ado about nothing.'' In her complaint to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Lynn Cannella disagreed.
She said Carey took a "confrontational stance" and demanded an explanation for the sign swap.
"Mr. Carey's aggressive nature is abhorrent," Lynn Cannella wrote, asking for an investigation. "Is this intimidating behavior really the demeanor of a judge we want representing the 13th Judicial Circuit?"
Carey, first elected in 2002, took offense at the suggestion that there was anything improper about his visit.
He said his opponent and her supporters are simply trying to make him look bad.
"I'm not a hot-head," he said. "My motive was curiosity."
The whole exchange lasted about 30 seconds, he said.
When Lynn Cannella came to the door, he said he asked one question in an even voice: Why did she feel strongly enough about the race to persuade her neighbor to change his sign?
The next day, he got a letter from Norman Cannella, telling him to stay away from the couple's home.
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or