In almost any election, candidates grumble about opponents tampering with campaign signs.
But rarely do such spats involve judicial candidates _ who profess to prize decorum. Rarely do witnesses claim they saw the mischievous deed in progress.
The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office is investigating a criminal complaint that county judge candidate Mary Jean McAllister uprooted a Sylvia Barr sign and tossed it into the bushes on primary election day in September.
The person complaining, who has personal ties to Barr, told police in an affidavit that the vandal sped off in a white car. The car's license tag _ as provided by the witness _ seems to lead to McAllister.
In a letter, McAllister declined to comment for this story, saying she refuses "to be involved in muckraking concerning other judicial candidates."
A St. Petersburg lawyer, she finished first and Barr finished last in the three-way primary. The second-place candidate, Clearwater lawyer Paul Levine, faces a runoff with McAllister on Nov. 3.
Levine's sister said McAllister pulled up a Levine sign at a polling place on Election Day.
"I couldn't believe my eyes," said Ellen King-Levine in an interview.
King-Levine didn't report the incident to police, she said, because her brother advised against it.
After the primary, Barr endorsed Levine. She challenged McAllister's credentials and integrity.
Barr contends that she encountered repeated trouble with her signs. Her workers would install a sign and return to find a McAllister sign, Barr said.
Two days after the primary, Barr aide Linda Platt told police that she had seen one culprit in action.
Platt, who works with Barr's husband, said she installed a Barr sign at her polling place.
About 40 minutes later, Platt said, "I saw a dark-haired female get out of a Volvo and throw Sylvia's sign into the bushes."
Platt said she reported the incident to St. Petersburg police. She said in the complaint that the woman looked like McAllister.
The license tag of the car Platt said she saw belongs to a Volvo registered to Edgar and Ellen Kline of Largo, according to records. Edgar Kline died in 1989; Ellen Kline has no driver's license.
The Klines' daughter, Judith, is a longtime associate of McAllister's. They once owned a house together. And McAllister recently shared Kline's office, according to the Florida Bar Journal.
Ellen Kline said she lent her car to someone, whom she declined to identify. Judith Kline did not respond to a telephoned question about who was driving her mother's car that day.
McAllister owns a Mercedes, but often drove a white Volvo to forums, other candidates said.
_ Times researcher Debbie Wolfe assisted with this report.