Prosecutor Sandy Hawkins of Belleview and attorney Denise Lyn of Hernando finished first and second, respectively, in the Aug. 26 election for the 5th Judicial Circuit Group 3 judgeship, edging out Spring Hill's Michael Lamberti.
Hawkins captured 43 percent of the votes, Lyn took 32 percent and Lamberti gathered the remaining 25 percent. Since neither woman captured the 50 percent plus one of the votes cast they needed to avoid a runoff, the two lawyers will settle the nonpartisan race Nov. 4. The circuit consists of Hernando, Citrus, Sumter, Marion and Lake counties, and the judicial post, carrying a six-year term and an annual salary of $145,000, will be based in Citrus County.
This is familiar territory for Hawkins, who in 2006 went to a runoff before losing to Edward Scott in a close race for the Group 29 judgeship. Hawkins, 53, has served as a prosecutor in Marion County for 11 years, handling, by her count, thousands of felony cases and more than 100 trials. She has worked on civil matters for police agencies and has experience in shelter hearings and Baker Act cases.
Hawkins connects with voters on a personal level. A farmer's daughter, she has been a single mother for 19 years and raised six sons. She worked two jobs to put herself through the police academy, the University of Florida and Stetson University College of Law.
Lyn, 41, has been a lawyer for more than 10 years, following a five-year stint in the Air Force and a short career in real estate. She has run her own law office since 2001 after working for four years in a prominent law firm in Inverness.
Her practice ranges from general litigation and family law to representing governmental clients such as the Citrus County Property Appraiser and the Homosassa Special Water District. She previously was the attorney for the city of Inverness.
Both candidates have the requisite tough-but-fair temperament for the bench and they share similar philosophies on sentencing guidelines, the value of diversion programs such as Teen Court and Drug Court, and the need for a judge to streamline the court docket for maximum efficiency.
Hawkins speaks of her work ethic and the "wisdom, knowledge, patience and life experience" that she has gained over her 53 years as reasons voters should choose her.
Lyn acknowledges that she has little to no experience in criminal court, but cites as key credentials her extensive service in family court as an attorney, a longtime volunteer legal advocate for children in dependency proceedings, and as a mediator.
The judgeship being vacated by Barbara Gurrola in Citrus County handles a diverse docket, with a main emphasis on family court and related civil matters. It should be an easy fit, and the logical next step, for Lyn.
The Times recommends that voters send Denise Lyn to the Group 3 bench on Nov. 4.