There are clear choices in the two Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court races this November. While all four candidates are well regarded attorneys, two better reflect the qualities voters should look for in a judge, including stellar professional credentials and experience, an even temperament, solid work ethic, and a commitment to fairness and compassion. Circuit judges are elected to six-year terms and handle felony cases, as well as family law, juvenile cases and civil lawsuits with damages of more than $15,000.
Kathryn Marie Welsh | Group 18
Kathryn Marie Welsh, 49, is a Largo sole practitioner with 22 years of litigation experience. She had the broadest legal experience of any candidate in the three-way primary and finished second with 35.8 percent of the vote, behind Patricia Muscarella with 39.6 percent in the race for the seat being vacated by retiring Judge George Greer.
Muscarella, 58, is a former north Pinellas legislator whose political connections and name recognition give her a campaign advantage. But while Muscarella is personable and well liked by her peers in the legal community, she has essentially no trial experience, having used her legal training to work as a special master specializing in dispute resolution.
Welsh runs a diverse civil litigation practice with a focus on family law, and she has broad experience in contracts, foreclosure, bankruptcy and negligence suits. She is a board-certified marital and family law specialist, and a certified family mediator. Welsh says she has had about 70 bench trials since 2002 and may be juggling 100 civil cases at any one time. She is accustomed to the kinds of demands facing a judge who may have hundreds of cases on a docket. She also has performed volunteer work as a guardian ad litem and with Habitat for Humanity.
Welsh's varied legal experience and solid reputation among her peers make her the better candidate. In Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Group 18, the Times recommends Kathryn Marie Welsh.
Keith Meyer| Group 27
Defense attorney Keith Meyer came in first in a four-way primary for the seat held by retiring Judge Ray Ulmer with 31.1 percent of the vote. The second-place finisher, civil litigator Jeff O'Brien, received 26.9 percent of the vote. Both men have extensive courtroom experience. Meyer has the edge because of his broad legal background and wealth of pro bono and community work.
Meyer, 35, is a former prosecutor and now does criminal defense and general civil litigation in the Clearwater law firm of Tinny, Meyer & Piccarreto. Known as a good litigator with solid judgment, Meyer says he has been lead counsel on 21 jury trials.
Meyer has distinguished himself in this race through his significant commitment to providing pro bono legal help in places where it is most needed, including free legal clinics in some of the poorer areas of St. Petersburg and Clearwater. He received recognition in 2009 for his outstanding pro bono service with Gulf Coast Legal Services.
O'Brien, 63, is a seasoned civil litigator in Clearwater who has been practicing for more than 37 years and now has his own firm. He is widely viewed as a fine attorney, but Meyer is the more well-rounded choice.
In Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Group 27, the Times recommends Keith Meyer.