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The funny thing is, Leander Shaw probably could have avoided all this. When a controversial abortion case landed on his desk last year, the chief justice of Florida's Supreme Court could have found some excuse to give it to another justice. Instead, Shaw wrote the court's principal opinion in the case.

Now he probably wishes he had just ducked.

Shaw has been pelted with criticism from abortion opponents and others, right in the middle of his merit retention campaign. Under Florida's Constitution, voters must decide periodically whether to retain appellate judges or turn them out of office. The vote on Shaw is Tuesday.

Will the criticism affect voters?

No one knows, because no one can remember when a state Supreme Court justice attracted organized opposition. Justices of the Supreme Court face retention election every six years, and usually no one even notices.

In Shaw's case, the opposition was galvanized when the court issued an abortion-consent decision just days before the Florida Legislature met to consider tighter abortion restrictions. The court ruled that a law requiring minors to obtain consent for abortions violated the state's constitutional privacy guarantee. The decision stopped the anti-abortion forces cold.

Since then, opponents have branded Shaw as anti-family. They have attacked the court's decisions in criminal cases, including murder cases. They have criticized Shaw for decisions that haven't been made yet.

The opposition appears to be underfinanced, but it has something money can't buy: true believers. Organizers have mailed out thousands of anti-Shaw postcards. Thirty-second announcements criticizing the court have been broadcast day after day on fundamentalist Christian radio stations.

Regardless of how the criticism affects voters, it's clearly affecting Shaw. The normally studious, reserved jurist has been transformed into a regular stump politician _ and a pretty fervent one, at that.

"According to them, I'm responsible for everything from the Chicago fire to plague," Shaw said recently. "They tell parts of things, not all of things. A half-truth _ that's the hardest thing to defend against."



Seven justices make up the Florida Supreme Court, the state's highest court. They decide cases of unusual significance, such as those in which a judge has declared a state law invalid, or those in which two lower courts of appeal have differed. The Supreme Court also hears appeals of all cases in which the death sentence has been imposed. The court oversees the state's lawyers and judges and imposes discipline. The job will pay $100,444 a year as of January.


LEANDER SHAW, 60, was born in Salem, Va. He graduated from West Virginia State College Institute and the law school of Howard University. He was an assistant professor of law at Florida A


M University and practiced law in Jacksonville. He was a public defender and then a state prosecutor in charge of capital crimes. In 1979, he was named a judge on the 1st District Court of Appeal and in 1983 was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court. On July 1, he became chief justice of the Supreme Court. ASSETS: Real estate, stock, savings, deferred pay. LIABILITIES: A loan. INCOME: Salary, interest, dividends.