TALLAHASSEE — Quietly and with little public notice, more than 250 judges as well as two dozen state attorneys and public defenders won re-election Friday as the qualifying period for judicial offices ended.
Among the winners are Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe and Public Defender Bob Dillinger, and Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober and Public Defender Julianne Holt.
They and hundreds of judges should all thank former Miami Dade Circuit Judge Martin D. Kahn, a veteran jurist who was defeated by 2,700 votes by a political newcomer when he sought re-election in 2000.
Kahn's defeat ginned up so much sympathy among state lawmakers that they quietly tucked a little amendment in an elections bill as it passed on the final night of the 2002 legislative session.
Instead of qualifying for public office with other state candidates in July of every year, the judges would file their paperwork in May, when federal candidates qualify.
Former Rep. Dudley Goodlette, R-Naples, offered the measure as part of a larger amendment. Contacted earlier this week, Goodlette said the issue had been raised because of Kahn's defeat. Sitting judges wanted time to clear their calendars and campaign if they faced opponents, Goodlette said.
"The rumor was that if they moved judicial qualifying, then maybe nobody would notice," recalled Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who was Pasco elections supervisor in 2002 and lobbying lawmakers for improved elections laws.
For the qualifying that closed Friday, there were 283 circuit judge positions statewide. Twenty-three of those are open seats and will be contested.
Of the 260 remaining seats, only eight will be contested. The other 252 won unopposed.
Brad King, the state attorney in Hernando, and Howard "Skip" Babb Jr., the public defender, also drew no opposition.
Two of the state's top prosecutors, Lawson Lamar of Orange County and Norm Wolfinger of Brevard County, qualified to seek re-election. Wolfinger is unopposed and Lamar drew a little-known criminal defense lawyer as an opponent.
Lamar and Wolfinger are among the state's top double dippers.
Lamar "retired" in 2005 without leaving office. He collected $514,927 in lump sum benefits, plus a $115,752 a year pension, plus an annual salary of $153,140.
Wolfinger followed suit in 2007. He collected $447,834 in lump sum benefits, plus an $83,484 a year pension, plus an annual salary of $153,140.
Circuit judges are paid $145,080.
Only two incumbent circuit judges in the Tampa Bay area drew opposition, both in Tampa: Judge Kevin Carey is opposed by lawyer Catherine M. Catlin, and Judge Martha Cook drew opposition from Constance Daniels.
The other contested races are for open seats.
Few incumbents have lost since Florida began electing judges in nonpartisan races in the 1970s, but the early qualifying date lets even more avoid opposition, according to a review of election results over the past 12 years.
Judges frequently escape opposition because only lawyers can run for the jobs, and few lawyers are willing to risk angering a judge before whom they must appear. In recent years few incumbent circuit judges have faced opposition, and only five have been defeated.
In 2005, lobbyists for the state's prosecutors and public defenders got legislators to move their qualifying to May as well, putting all judicial system races up for grabs much earlier than the traditional qualifying period, which usually begins in July.
This year, qualifying for other state candidates begins June 16 because primaries are Aug. 26, a week earlier than in past years.
Supreme Court and District Court justices run under a merit retention system. No judge has been denied another term since the merit retention system was adopted in the 1970s.
On the Supreme Court this year, only Justice Charles T. Wells faces voters. Twenty-three judges from the five district courts of appeal will also be on the ballot.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.
Lucy Morgan can be reached
or (850) 224-7263.