Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

5th Circuit chief judge, public defender stepping down as 2012 qualifying deadline passes

BROOKSVILLE — After six years as chief judge of the 5th Judicial Circuit and 14 years on the bench, Daniel Merritt Sr. will step down when his term ends in January.

Howard "Skip'' Babb will also retire from the public defender's job he has held since 1980.

Friday was the deadline for candidates for judge, state attorney and public defender to qualify for the 2012 election ballot.

Merritt's circuit judge seat will be filled by Spring Hill lawyer Stephen Toner Jr., the only person who qualified for the seat by the deadline. Toner has sought judicial appointments several times in recent years.

He could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Without opposition, Brad King will serve another four-year term as state attorney. He first won the job in 1988. Before that, King served as a prosecutor.

Merritt could not be reached for comment after Friday's filing deadline He turned 70 earlier this year, and the state Constitution forbids circuit judges from serving after that age.

Merritt, who was born and raised in Brooksville, graduated from the University of Florida's law school in 1967 and returned to Brooksville, where he practiced law for 30 years before becoming a judge. In 2006, he became chief judge, the first in recent memory from Hernando County in a circuit dominated by Lake and Marion counties. The circuit also includes Citrus and Sumter counties.

Babb is also a native Floridian and has spent the majority of his life in Lake County, working for a time as a private attorney, then starting his career in public service as an assistant state attorney in Sumter County in 1975.

He said Friday he was looking forward to his retirement and noted that his years working with the training committee and serving as president for the Florida Public Defender Association were especially rewarding.

Babb vowed to work with whoever is elected to the public defender's job "to try to make it as smooth a transition as possible.''

Two attorneys in the circuit will face one another to fill the post: Mike Graves of Tavares and Bo Samargya of Inverness.

Samargya said his varied background — working for public defenders and state attorneys as well as in the private sector and as a conflict counsel, providing representation for indigent clients — has uniquely qualified him for the job.

"I've been doing criminal defense work for a long time,'' he said.

Graves could not be reached for comment.

Facing no opposition and therefore winning six-year terms as circuit judges in Hernando County are: Merritt's son, Daniel Merritt Jr.; Heidi Davis; and Anthony Tatti.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.

5th Circuit chief judge, public defender stepping down as 2012 qualifying deadline passes 04/20/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 20, 2012 8:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Navy expected to relieve admiral in charge of 7th Fleet in response to deadly disasters at sea


    The Navy will relieve the senior admiral in charge of the service's 7th Fleet based in Japan in response to four embarrassing accidents this year, two of which killed sailors at sea, two U.S. officials said.

    Tugboats assist the guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain on its way to Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Monday. [U.S. Navy]
  2. Trump chides media over Charlottesville


    President Donald Trump is blaming the media for the widespread condemnation of his response to a Charlottesville, Va., protest organized by white supremacists that led to the killing of a counter-protester.

    Trump met service members before the rally.
  3. Jones: Koetter-Winston exchange highlights latest 'Hard Knocks'


    There are certain things that make HBO's Hard Knocks must-see television.

    Jameis Winston, left, has an exchange with Dirk Koetter that highlights Hard Knocks.
  4. Rays are full of ideas they'd like to share when commissioner visits

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Commissioner Rob Manfred is coming to the Trop today. Hmm. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg will be there to greet him. Hmmmm. And they have a scheduled joint media session. Hmmmmmmmmm.

    Commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t expected to say anything definitive about the Rays’ stadium situation when he visits the team today.
  5. Mayor Rick Kriseman endorsed by another police union


    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman is already backed by the city's largest police union, the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman has secured another police union endorsement