Pasco County Court Judge Debra Roberts began sitting on the bench eight years ago while her opponent was still in law school. It's critical experience her political adversary cannot match and the top reason the Times recommends Roberts for re-election in the Aug. 24 nonpartisan election.
Her opponent, Gerald Ferenchik, 49, is earnest and hardworking. Still, by comparison, he is a relatively inexperienced assistant public defender. He graduated from law school in 2002, the same year Roberts became county court judge after a groundbreaking appointment by Gov. Jeb Bush. Roberts, 57, is the first African-American to serve on the bench in Pasco. Voters returned her to office for a six-year term in 2004.
After graduating from the University of Toledo College of Law, Ferenchik served two years as a law clerk in federal bankruptcy court in Tallahassee, worked for a private firm doing civil court work dealing with employment law and negligence cases, and then joined the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender's Office in May 2007. There, he has handled 3,900 criminal cases and 25 trials. His boss, Public Defender Bob Dillinger, called him a good lawyer who had good credentials when he joined the office.
Running for judge, Ferenchik said, has been a personal goal since law school and he decided to challenge Judge Roberts after being assigned to her courtroom for a year. He said he can do a better job "with regard to skills, abilities and courtroom demeanor."
We disagree with his case. Even Ferenchik calls Roberts a competent judge and he offers no compelling reason to replace her.
Roberts' personal history and social worker background are important attributes that make her a well-rounded judge. She grew up in public housing, and, until her junior year in high school, attended segregated schools with secondhand books and little equipment. Still, she made education a priority, earned academic degrees in social work and was a child support enforcement hearing officer, mental health therapist and medical social worker for the U.S. Public Health Service Corps before enrolling in law school at Florida State University.
Her pre-judicial legal experience includes court counsel to the Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Court, small claims pretrial hearing officer and senior staff attorney for the Florida Supreme Court/Office of State Court Administrator.
Since joining the bench, she has presided over 20,000 county court cases and filled vacancies on the circuit level. Handling high-volume dockets effectively is accompanied by Roberts' desire to work with young people. With the Judges in Schools program, Roberts volunteered for weekly mentoring sessions with truant middle school students, and her broad and numerous community ties include sitting on the board of Youth & Family Alternatives Inc.
Ferenchik is giving voters a choice, but not a better choice for Pasco County Court judge. The Times recommends voters re-elect Judge Debra Roberts to the Group 4 Pasco County Court judicial race.