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Seven applicants remain for judge

Three Inverness lawyers and a Marion County judge are among those still in the running to become Citrus County's next circuit judge.

The applicant pool stood at 14 early Monday. But the Judicial Nominating Commission, during a closed-door session in Inverness, decided to drop seven applicants and concentrate on the remaining seven.

Making the cut were Assistant State Attorney Jim Dysart, private attorney Fred Ohlinger and private lawyer and Citrus County School Board member Patricia Vitter, who all work in Inverness.

Also on the list were Marion County Judge Hale Stancil, Hernando County Assistant State Attorney Don Scaglione, Ocala lawyer Stephen P. Lee and Williston lawyer Elizabeth A.W. "Pan" Zettler.

Those seven are scheduled to go before the commission this Monday for formal interviews. The proceedings are scheduled to start at 9 a.m., though the exact location had not been determined as of late Monday. The meeting will be open to the public.

After the interviews are finished, the commission will deliberate and eventually settle on three names to send Gov. Lawton Chiles. The governor will make the final decision.

In related news Monday:

Teresa S. Carey, a 45-year-old art gallery owner from Ocala, was elected to fill an open spot on the commission.

The commission decided it would not accept the application of Kenneth Stepp, an Inverness lawyer, because Stepp filed his paperwork late.

Local activist Natalie Baarsma filed four complaints with the commission, all dealing with judicial hopefuls' alleged wrongs.

And Crystal River lawyer Charles Horn, who did not make the first cut, publicly lashed out at the commission, calling its members "hacks" and its decisions "laughable."

The whirlwind process is necessary because Circuit Judge William Edwards plans to retire from the bench Aug. 31. His seat will be on the ballot next year, so Chiles must appoint a judge to fill the spot.

The commission didn't waste time getting down to business. Meeting Monday at the law office of Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick, who is a commission member, the group decided it would not automatically grant interviews to each applicant.

"Length of time at the Bar, length of time in the practice of law, and the variety of the practice . . . those were considerations," Chairman John McKeever said when asked how candidates qualified for the interview stage.

The commission now has a diverse group to consider:

Dysart, 42, and Scaglione, 33, both are prosecutors, though Scaglione also has experience in private practice. Ohlinger, 45, is a former prosecutor and is in private practice handling civil and criminal cases.

Lee, 50, and Zettler, 51, both have civil practices, though Lee also represents criminal defendants. Lee also is a former Marion County attorney.

Vitter, 41, handles civil and criminal cases; her three years on the School Board also has given her valuable experience as a public servant. Stancil has been a county judge since 1982, handling countless criminal and civil cases, and practiced law for years before he took the bench.

Included in the decision-making will be Ms. Carey, whom the commission elected Monday morning to round out its roster. Ms. Carey owns Blue Heron Gallery and Frame Inc. in Ocala and is vice chairwoman of the Ocala Municipal Arts Commission.

She was one of 11 people who applied for the unpaid position; her term will end July 1, 1996.

The commission comprises three lawyers whom the Florida Bar appoints; three lawyers or lay people selected by the governor; and three lay people selected by the other six commissioners.

In her complaints, Baarsma contended that Vitter has an inside line to the appointment because she is chummy with Fitzpatrick. She also complained that Vitter and Horn were among the lawyers who worked against County Judge Gary Graham.

When told of the allegations, Vitter had a brief comment: "The allegations of Ms. Baarsma do not merit a response."

But Horn had plenty to say. He said the commission and the nominating process are a political joke and that a winner _ whom he identified as Vitter _ already has been chosen.

Horn said the commission at least should have granted him an interview. He pointed out that he has wide-ranging legal experience and has won or helped win landmark First Amendment and public-records law cases.

"What one of the hacks on this commission has done anything that significant?" he asked.