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For Hillsborough judicial circuit

The Aug. 26 primary election features fives races for circuit court judge in the 13th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Hillsborough County. Since each race has just two candidates, the winners will be elected and there will be no need for runoff elections in November. Circuit judges hear felony and family law cases and civil disputes involving damages of more than $15,000. They are elected to six-year terms in nonpartisan races.

Caroline Tesche Group 1

Caroline Tesche is the strongest judicial candidate in Hillsborough to come along in years.

Tesche, 47, has broad experience in both criminal and civil law and with the state and federal courts. As an assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade, she prosecuted all levels of felony crimes, including first-degree murder. She later worked in Maine under a federal drug enforcement task force and in the Florida Keys as a private attorney. Tesche joined the Hillsborough Public Defender's Office in 1996, leaving in 1998 to form her own private practice in Tampa.

Tesche's diverse background and fluency in the law, trial procedure and business would make her a versatile member of the bench.

Jason Montes, 39, has none of this maturity. He has practiced law for six years and spent barely more than a year as a public defender before moving on to private practice, where he handles mostly insurance cases. Montes said there was "no rhyme or reason" why he decided to run for this seat — "it's just what was open at the time."

For Hillsborough Circuit Court Group 1, the Times recommends Caroline Tesche.

Samantha Ward

Group 2

Samantha Ward's demonstrated love for the courtroom, broad experience in trial law and understanding of how the Hillsborough court system works make her the obvious choice.

In her 18 years as an attorney, Ward has worked both sides of the aisle. She spent three years as a prosecutor in Tampa before moving in 1993 to the public defender's office. Her work on death cases as a prosecutor and a public defender would bring added balance to the bench. Ward, 43, still tries cases and performs various administrative duties for the office, from managing the budget and training staff to acting as a liaison with other agencies.

Miriam Velez, 37, touts 12 years of "judicial system" experience. But she has been a lawyer only six years; the rest of that time she worked as a probation officer or with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. She has nowhere near Ward's range.

For Hillsborough Circuit Court Group 2, the Times recommends Samantha Ward.

Catherine M. Catlin Group 7

This race is an especially difficult choice for people who know the courthouse and the candidates best.

The incumbent judge, Kevin Carey, and his challenger, Catherine Catlin, are sharp, ethical and well liked. Both have stellar academic credentials. But the complaint about Carey among lawyers who have appeared before him is that his indecision can tax their clients' emotions and cost them time and money.

Catlin, 47, has been an attorney in private practice for 21 years, the last 13 years in her own practice. Since 1988, she has focused exclusively on family law litigation. Though that area of law can be particularly fraught with emotion, attorneys who have litigated cases with Catlin say she is professional and composed.

Carey, 49, was an attorney in private practice for nearly 20 years before being elected to the bench in 2002. He focused mostly on business litigation, and gave his time to a wide array of community groups.

Some attorneys fault Carey for trying to please everybody, which congests his docket and denies people before him timely decisions. Carey said his disposition rate is about "middle of the pack" for the circuit's seven family law judges. He also rightly points out that family law cases can be complex and stay active for years. But the complaints about him can be as simple as having routine matters resolved in a timely manner. They come from a wide variety of lawyers, including those who supported Carey in his first run for judge.

Her supporters say Catlin is capable of making a decision and moving on, without giving short shrift to litigants or to the legal issues involved. They praise her judgment, work ethic and ability to control emotional situations.

For Hillsborough Circuit Court Group 7, the Times recommends Catherine M. Catlin.

Lisa Campbell

Group 21

Both candidates have a long history of community service. But Lisa Campbell has twice as many years of legal experience, which better prepares her.

Campbell, 43, spent 14 years as a public defender in Hillsborough before moving into private practice. She learned to manage the heavy caseload — good training for a judge — and understands that judges need to be prepared and write reasoned, clear opinions in a timely manner.

Linda Courtney Clark, 51, became an attorney in 2001 after a career in business. She practices mostly family and marital law. Clark said her background in law and business gives her a broad perspective. But that rounded view, while important, does not match the professional experience Campbell offers.

For Hillsborough Circuit Court Group 21, the Times recommends Lisa Campbell.

Martha Cook

Group 30

There is no reason to replace Martha Cook. The 58-year-old had a distinguished career in public and private practice before first winning her judicial seat in 2002.

Cook was a partner at Holland & Knight and a family law mediator before winning election. She spent her first 4 ½ years presiding over juvenile dependency cases. She was recently transferred to hear civil cases.

Cook's experience is far more solid than that of her opponent, Constance Daniels, 41, who has her own law practice in Tampa.

For Hillsborough Circuit Court Group 30, the Times recommends Martha Cook.

For Hillsborough judicial circuit 08/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 1:17pm]
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