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Election competition awaits sitting judges

Pinellas County lawyers rarely take on sitting judges in elections. Conventional courthouse wisdom holds that judges are hard to beat and might be less than friendly should an unsuccessful challenger later appear before them.

But when qualifying for this fall's elections closed Friday, half of the judicial races involved a sitting judge.

Circuit Court Judge Claire K. Luten is being challenged by St. Petersburg lawyer Walt Logan. County Judge Charles S. Carrere will face Clearwater lawyer James L. Berfield. And County Judge Myra Scott McNary will face Palm Harbor lawyer George I. Sanchez.

In all, 16 candidates are vying for six spots on the bench _ four Circuit Court judgeships and two county judgeships.

Circuit judges, who earn $104,620 a year, rule on felony criminal cases, large civil matters, family law, juvenile law and probate.

County judges, who earn $92,995 annually,oversee misdemeanor trials, minor civil cases and traffic court.

The sixteen candidates range in age from 35 to 62. Twelve candidates received law degrees from Stetson University College of Law. Seven candidates, including the three judges, already work in the court system.

And five of the six races include a female candidate _ which reflects strong showings by women in the last two judicial elections.

Here's a look at the races:

Circuit Judge, Group 1

This seat became open with the retirement of Judge Owen S. Allbritton. The candidates are:

Dean Hoolihan, 49, a general practice lawyer in Clearwater; Lauren Laughlin, 45, staff counsel for the 6th Judicial Circuit's Probate Division; Mark R. Lewis, 49, a St. Petersburg lawyer who specializes in probate law; and Nicholas Mooney, 35, an assistant state attorney.

Circuit Judge, Group 6

This seat became open when Judge Fred L. Bryson announced his retirement. The candidates are:

Shawn Crane, 36, an assistant state attorney; Marion Lucas Fleming, 56, a St. Petersburg general practitioner; Joe Lovelace, 47, a general master in the Family Law Division; and Thomas O. Michaels, 42, a general practice lawyer in Dunedin.

Circuit Judge, Group 16

Luten, 56, is the incumbent and has served in civil and criminal divisions. She is challenged by Logan, 52, a general practice lawyer in St. Petersburg.

Circuit Judge, Group 17

This seat opened with the retirement of Judge Horace Andrews. The candidates are:

Sarah Chaves, 47, a St. Petersburg lawyer who specializes in family and civil law; and Mark Shames, 45, a St. Petersburg lawyer who specializes in probate law.

County Judge, Group 5

Carrere, 59, is the incumbent with 16 years as county judge. Berfield is a former Clearwater city commissioner and practices in Clearwater.

County Judge, Group 7

McNary, 36, is the incumbent, having been appointed in 1995. Sanchez, 55, is a general practitioner in Palm Harbor.