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THE RACE FOR CIRCUIT JUDGE GROUP 14

The race for circuit judge in Group 14 matches a veteran homicide prosecutor against a longtime defense attorney. After eliminating a third competitor in the Oct. 2 primary, Assistant State Attorney Michael Benito and defense lawyer Robert "Bob" Simms will square off again Tuesday. The contest is non-partisan.

Both say their years in the courtroom have given them the experience to handle the job. The seat is held by Circuit Judge John P. Griffin, who is retiring.

"I've been with the state attorney's office for 12 years in every type of criminal division there is," said Benito, 38. He has prosecuted some of the county's most notorious murder cases, among them, serial killer Bobby Joe Long.

"I've stayed at work until 3 or 4 in the morning, and my concern was that I needed to make sure a child killer or serial murderer did not get on the street," he said.

Simms, however, says he has a broader legal background. Simms has worked on both sides of the courtroom _ first as a prosecutor and then as a defense lawyer for 10 years.

The 43-year-old lawyer has handled civil cases such as family law and appellate cases in both state and federal courts.

"My experience is broad," he said. "I'm not limited to just one area of the law."

Simms also stresses a commitment to his community. He has been president of the Temple Terrace homeowners association for three years, he said.

"I give to my community on a pro bono basis," he said.

_ RACHEL L. SWARNS

THE JOB

Circuit judges are elected on a non-partisan basis and serve six-year terms. They preside over felony criminal cases, civil lawsuits involving more than $10,000, family law matters and juvenile cases. The position will pay $90,399 as of January.

CANDIDATE

MICHAEL BENITO, 38, is the main homicide prosecutor for the Hillsborough state attorney's office. Born in Tampa, Benito graduated from the Florida State University College of Law in 1978 and has worked for the state attorney's office ever since. He is married and has a son. ASSETS: Home, savings. LIABILITIES: Mortgage, loans. INCOME: Salary.

CANDIDATE

ROBERT "BOB" SIMMS, 43, has spent 10 years as sole practitioner handling civil, criminal, appellate and juvenile cases in both state and federal courts. He also worked as a prosecutor for the state attorney's office for five years. He was born in Cincinnati and graduated from Stetson University College of Law in 1975. Simms is married and has a daughter. ASSETS: Home, real estate, savings. LIABILITIES: Loans. INCOME: Salary.

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