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Health problems prompt 5th Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing to retire

BROOKSVILLE — Citing health problems, Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing has submitted his resignation.

Rushing, 64, wrote Gov. Charlie Crist on Nov. 30, extending his "deepest regret."

His last day is March 31.

"It has been my distinct honor and pleasure to have served the citizens of Hernando County and the Fifth Judicial Circuit …," Rushing wrote to Crist.

Rushing, a former Pinellas County judge, was appointed to the circuit bench by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in November 2005.

"With the health issues and my age, it's probably the best for myself and my family," he said in an interview Monday.

Rushing, who is married with four children ages 17 to 26, declined to elaborate on his health, but said he is confident he can serve until his successor is appointed.

"I will be able to finish my job at full capacity, or at least as full as a I can," Rushing said. "Some days are easier than others to do that."

Rushing said he notified the circuit's chief judge, Dan Merritt Sr., about his intentions in the summer. Merritt didn't return a message left at his office Monday afternoon.

Bush appointed Rushing after the Legislature created two judicial positions for the 5th Circuit, which covers Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties. He was re-elected in 2008 without opposition and would have been up for re-election in 2014.

The governor's office has asked the 5th Circuit Judicial Nominating Committee to begin the selection process for Rushing's successor, who will serve the rest of the six-year term, Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said. The committee has until Feb. 5 to forward a list of candidates to the governor's office, which by then will be occupied by Gov.-elect Rick Scott. Scott then has 60 days to make an appointment.

Circuit judges are paid $142,178 a year.

A graduate of Stetson University College of Law, Rushing served as an assistant public defender and assistant state attorney before being elected to a county judge post in Pinellas in 1988, a job he held for 10 years. Later, he served three years as assistant general counsel for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Shortly after his appointment to the circuit bench, Rushing sentenced the notorious Tommy Lee to 25 years in prison. At age 34, Lee had racked up more than 30 felony convictions and was found guilty of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and fleeing and attempting to elude.

Last year, Rushing slapped 19-year-old Jamie Lynn Tyson with 45 years in prison for his role in the brutal attack on John Kelly, known as "the walker" for his frequent trips along the county's highways. Kelly survived but suffered serious injuries.

Rushing said he has enjoyed an outpouring of support from judges, attorneys and staffers as the news spread throughout the courthouse.

"Everybody's been wonderful," he said.

Health problems prompt 5th Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing to retire 12/13/10 [Last modified: Monday, December 13, 2010 10:34pm]
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