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Past versus the future // GROUP 11

The candidates for 5th Judicial Circuit judge, Group 11, say it themselves: The race is about the past and the future.

In incumbent Circuit Judge John Thurman's eyes, he is better prepared to serve because his 12 years on the bench have given him the opportunity to oversee hundreds of felony cases, as well as cases in the civil and juvenile realm.

His opponent, Crystal River lawyer Michael Blackstone, says he is prepared to take the judiciary to the next level through participation in the community.

Thurman, 49, says his past makes him well-suited for another term. Blackstone, 40, says that past is not good enough.

"I don't see things getting any better," Blackstone said. "I look at the way things have been done here and I'm not satisfied."

Thurman was elected in 1984 and has never faced opposition. Thurman, who is married to U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, encouraged voters at a recent political forum to compare his credentials with his challenger's.

"I think if you do, you'll find I've served you well," he said. "I think we're moving in the right direction."

During Thurman's tenure, he said, he helped establish three divisions _ civil, family and criminal _ and the teen court program. He is a member of the circuit judge appellate panel for the 5th Circuit and the mentor coordinator for the circuit's new judge mentor program.

An appeals court overturned the judge in two high-profile cases: for failing to allow a defense attorney to hire a DNA expert in a rape case to counter the state's evidence, and for failing to remove a lawyer's name from the witness list in a quadruple murder case. In both cases, the appeals court overturned a conviction and both defendants are awaiting new trials.

"Every judge gets reversed," he said. "It's part of the business. There's not a single judge that doesn't make a mistake. I think I've done a good job."

For some time, Thurman suffered from health problems. In August 1995, he received a kidney transplant that he says turned his life around. Before the surgery he suffered from fatigue. He once lost consciousness during a hearing, and on another day almost caused a head-on collision while driving.

Thurman said his illness is under control and he has renewed vigor to serve another term. If re-elected as the county's administrative judge, Thurman said, he would smooth the transition of the new circuit judge in group 3.

Blackstone said the status quo is not good enough for a system that is no longer respected. As judge, Blackstone said he would spend time in the community, working with civic groups and schools to talk about law and the consequences of crime.

Thurman maintains that an effective judge ought not hide in his chambers but should keep his distance to remain impartial.

He questioned whether Blackstone has an "agenda" in wanting to be a visible judge and suggested that a new judge with little trial experience should spend time studying the law rather than at speaking engagements.

"The bench is not for curing the world," Thurman said. "The bench is for specifically following the law and listening impartially to both sides and making decisions. I don't think I'm the person hiding in the ivory tower."

Blackstone was admitted to the Bar in 1982 and served as legal counsel for several businesses before moving to Citrus in 1990. Since then, he has owned the Blackstone and Carney law firm in Crystal River.

He takes pride in being a lawyer, he said, and would like to see residents consider the judiciary a lofty career. Blackstone, who is involved with teen court, said he is energetic and has the experience to treat people with respect.

Blackstone said that if elected, he would put television cameras in his courtroom so residents could watch proceedings, as they do in county court.

Thurman said cameras can be distracting.

Blackstone, who said he has tried eight criminal jury trials, also said he would render prompt decisions and scrutinize plea agreements to ensure they deter crime.

"I don't see respect for courts," Blackstone said. "I don't see anyone frightened of going before the court and being judged."

JOHN THURMAN, 49, was born in Benton Harbor, Mich., and moved to Florida when he was 2 years old. He has served as a 5th Judicial Circuit judge in Inverness for 12 years and is the county's administrative judge. While in office, he established three divisions: civil, family and criminal. He is a member of the circuit judge appellate panel for the 5th Circuit and coordinator of the circuit's judge mentor program. Thurman is married to U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman and lives in Dunnellon with her and their two children. ASSETS: three homes in Dunnellon, a home in Virginia, IRA account. LIABILITIES: mortgages, bank loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: judicial salary, dividends.

MICHAEL BLACKSTONE, 40, was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1982 and worked as legal counsel for several businesses before moving to Citrus County in 1990. He has owned and operated the Blackstone and Carney law firm in Crystal River since 1990. He coaches youth baseball and football and served on the Rock Crusher Elementary School Enhancement Council and in the PTA. Blackstone is a member of both the county and state bar associations. He lives in Crystal River and is married and has two children. ASSETS: home, vacant commercial property, warehouse, savings, checking account, stock. LIABILITIES: mortgage, bank loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: law firm, family trust.