Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Times recommends: Hillsborough judges

The Aug. 26 primary election features four races for circuit judge in the 13th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Hillsborough County. Two of the races have more than two candidates, and if no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote in those races, the top two finishers will face each other in November. Circuit judges hear felony and family law cases and civil disputes involving damages of more than $15,000. Circuit judges are elected to six-year terms and paid $142,178 per year. The races are nonpartisan and open to all county voters.

Barbara Twine Thomas

Group 8

Barbara Twine Thomas has twice been nominated for a judicial appointment but has not been chosen by the governor. Voters should correct that oversight.

Thomas, 61, has built her career primarily in civil litigation. She ha's served as counsel for several governments, including Hillsborough County, the city of Tampa and the Virgin Islands. Thomas is a former president of the George Edgecomb Bar Association, the Hillsborough Association for Women Lawyers and the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation. Her time in private practice has provided experience in a variety of areas ranging from family to criminal law.

Former Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder, 57, is a former public school teacher and public defender who is self-employed as an attorney with experience in both civil and criminal law. Carl Hinson, 54, has been in civil litigation for his entire career, building a solo practice primarily on personal injury law.

Thomas ran unsuccessfully for judge in 2012, underscoring her desire to serve as a judge. That long commitment to the bench, her experience and Thomas' calm, no-nonsense demeanor set her apart.

For Hillsborough Circuit Court Group 8, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Barbara Twine Thomas.

Michael Scionti

Group 19

This race reunites former law school classmates Michael Scionti and Michael John Brannigan. Both men grew up in Hillsborough County, graduated from the South Texas College of Law and returned to Florida.

Scionti, 45, has worked as an assistant attorney general, an assistant state attorney and an assistant statewide prosecutor. He was twice elected to the Florida House and served as a diplomat for the U.S. State Department. Scionti is in private practice and is in the Army Reserve, where he has been a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps for 14 years. As a new lawyer, Brannigan, 45, worked as an assistant state attorney in Pinellas County. He had a short stint as a solo practitioner before joining the Hogan Law Firm in Hernando County. He specializes in personal injury and government law and also works as a city attorney for the city of Crystal River. He also has done work in criminal defense and family law. Brannigan's varied portfolio would make him a solid judge. But Scionti would bring the broadest exposure to the bench. His time as a military magistrate in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that he can handle a docket. His career in public life has well prepared him to handle the complex cases that come before a circuit judge. Scionti's wide breadth of experience, compassion and record of sound decisionmaking make him the best choice for the bench.

For Hillsborough Circuit Court Group 19, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Michael Scionti.

Karen Stanley

Group 20

This open seat attracted two first-time candidates, one with deep experience in criminal law and the other with a background in civil law.

Karen Stanley has spent most of her career as a prosecutor in the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office. Stanley, 58, has litigated thousands of cases and managed more than 200 attorneys and support personnel in her role as chief assistant state attorney. She also has had short stints in private practice that exposed her to civil litigation.

Laura Ward, 34, has built an impressive resume as a civil lawyer. In practice for nearly a decade, she specializes in commercial law. Ward also runs a free legal clinic for veterans, helping them navigate trust, estate and family issues. In January, she won the Florida Bar's Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award. She is the daughter of retired Circuit Judge Ed Ward. Both candidates have the temperament to make solid jurists. Stanley's 25 years of experience as a prosecutor give her the edge. She has successfully prosecuted some of the county's most notorious criminals. Yet she has shown compassion to nonviolent young offenders, often meeting with juveniles and their families to learn about their backgrounds before offering plea deals. Stanley knows how a courtroom should be run and has a proven management record that would well serve the court.

For Hillsborough Circuit Court Group 20, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Karen Stanley.

Robert Bauman

Group 34

Robert Bauman's experience and professionalism are what voters should look for in a judge.

Bauman, 54, is a civil litigator who specializes in construction, real estate and bankruptcy law. He spent three years as a public defender in Hillsborough early in his career, giving him a wide range of experience in both civil and criminal law in the state and federal courts. Melissa "Missy" Polo, 45, owns her own practice, specializing in personal injury and medical negligence cases. A former prosecutor, she is well versed in the variety of cases that appear in circuit court. Her time management skills would enable Polo to manage a docket, and her businesslike demeanor would inspire confidence among those who appear before her. Constance Daniels, 47, is a sole practitioner with a focus on criminal, family and personal injury law. A former prosecutor and public defender, Daniels is familiar with the local courts and active in civic causes. She vows to be fair and respectful.

Bauman, though, has already distinguished himself in the legal field, earning a top rating by his peers for excellence and ethics. The local judicial nominating commission has sent Bauman's name to the governor repeatedly in recent years for appointment to fill vacant judicial seats, most recently in January. His success over 26 years as coach of Jesuit High School's state title-winning soccer team reflects his personal skills and ability to connect.

For Hillsborough Circuit Court Group 34, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Robert Bauman.


Nash for county judge

Hillsborough voters face one race for county court judge in the Aug. 26 primary. County judges hear misdemeanors, traffic cases and small claims. County judges are elected to six-year terms and paid $134,280 per year. The race is nonpartisan and open to all voters.


Chris Nash Group 12

In his short time in office, Hillsborough County Judge Chris Nash has earned praise for his strong work ethic, intellect, sense of fair play and willingness to chip in to help cover the county's case loads. He is a credit to the judiciary and should remain on the bench.

Nash, 43, was appointed to the bench last year by Gov. Rick Scott. In private practice, Nash specialized in civil matters, from bankruptcy and real estate to business litigation that took him to both state and federal court. That background has prompted Hillsborough's chief judge to assign Nash to cover higher-level circuit cases when needed, a sign of the confidence veteran colleagues place in him.

Norman S. Cannella is a former prosecutor who has been in private practice since 2001, specializing in criminal defense work. Cannella, 46, presents no compelling argument for becoming a judge, much less to remove a competent one. He is the son of a well-known Tampa attorney of the same name.

Nash's history of handling complex litigation gives him valuable credentials as a judge. He is hard-working, open and respectful, and he carries himself with the tact and composure the office requires. His colleagues see him as a rising star.

For Hillsborough County Court Group 12, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Chris Nash.


Candidate replies The Tampa Bay Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for Hillsborough Circuit Court judge and county judge should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday to Tim Nickens, editor of editorials, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL, 33731; or through our website at www.tampabay.com/letters. Replies are limited to 150 words.

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