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CIRCUIT AND COUNTY JUDGES // Two sitting judges voted off the bench

For the first time in 16 years, Pinellas County voters have turned out incumbent judges.

St. Petersburg civil lawyer Walt Logan knocked off Circuit Judge Claire K. Luten, a 20-year veteran of the bench. And Clearwater attorney James Berfield defeated County Judge Charles S. Carrere.

The only incumbent who faced a challenger Tuesday night and survived was County Judge Myra Scott McNary, the county's only African-American judge. She trounced Palm Harbor attorney George Sanchez.

McNary credited her win to a combination of prayer and shoe leather.

Her campaign went door-to-door, canvassing about 170,000 voters, as well as targeting the people voting absentee.

"I just got out there and met the people," she said.

Logan praised hard work by his daughters, ages 19, 16 and 14. The three often showed up at party functions their father could not attend.

"Frankly, there were probably audiences that preferred to see them instead of me," he said.

In another circuit race decided Tuesday, St. Petersburg probate lawyer Mark Shames squeaked by St. Petersburg family practitioner Sarah Chaves. Meanwhile, runoffs will be held Nov. 5 to decide two other circuit court races.

Assessing Tuesday's results, Chief Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer speculated that the two challengers who won both had run before and, possibly had higher name recognition than the incumbents who lost.

"As a sitting judge, I plan to try to find out what it means," Schaeffer said. "I'm sure there are other sitting judges who will try to find out too."

Circuit Judge, Group 16

For three straight elections, Logan unsuccessfully ran for open Circuit Court seats. If nothing else, he may have built up a following in Pasco County, which makes up the 6th Judicial Circuit with Pinellas. He and Luten ran close in Pinellas, but he beat her soundly north of the county line.

"I've always loved Pasco County," he chuckled Tuesday night.

Logan, 52, contended that Luten was high-handed and temperamental. He pointed to the Clearwater Bar Association's annual rating of judges. For the last four years, Luten has scored second- or third-to-last in the category of temperament and demeanor out of three dozen circuit judges.

Though normally soft-spoken, Logan is no stranger to controversy. For several years he litigated against the Church of Scientology and has represented several clients who sued other lawyers for malpractice.

Luten could not be reached.

Circuit Judge, Group 17

Shames, 45, is a prominent cog in St. Petersburg's legal establishment. He was president of both the St. Petersburg Bar Association and the Pinellas County Trial Lawyer's Association.

For the last several years, he practiced probate law almost exclusively: wills, estates, trusts and guardianships.

In their battle to replace retiring Circuit Judge Horace Andrews, Chaves, 47, contended that she had more litigation experience as a family practice lawyer with some civil experience.

"I tried hard and gave it my best shot," Chaves said. "I offer my congratulations to Mark Shames."

In recent weeks, as Shames picked up newspaper recommendations and the endorsements of various organizations, his supporters told him he was sure to win, even calling him "judge." Shames said he would cover his ears, not wanting to jinx his campaign.

"My fears were grounded," he said, joking that the sweat was still dripping from his forehead. As he watched the vote totals trickle in, he said, "I was wondering if there was a cardiologist in the room."

Circuit Judge, Group 1

In a four-candidate race to replace retiring Circuit Judge Owen Allbritton, Lauren Laughlin soundly out-polled her two closest opponents.

Laughlin, 46, graduated from Stetson University College of Law seven years ago and immediately went to work for the 6th Judicial Circuit's probate division, where she has worked her way up to staff counsel.

Facing her in a runoff will be Nicholas F. Mooney, 36, a veteran prosecutor with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office who stressed his criminal trial experience.

Mooney barely defeated Clearwater attorney Dean Hoolihan to make the runoff. St. Petersburg general practitioner Mark Lewis finished a distant fourth.

Circuit Judge, Group 6

Marion Fleming, 56, once worked as a prosecutor and now is a family practice lawyer in St. Petersburg. She also stressed her experience as a teacher, mother and minister's wife.

She finished first in a four-way race to replace retiring Circuit Judge Fred L. Bryson.

Facing her will be Sean Crane, 37, an assistant state attorney who oversees about three dozen other lawyers in the misdemeanor division.

Not making the runoff were Joe Lovelace, a general master in the family division, and Dunedin general practitioner Thomas O. Michaels.

County Judge, Group 6

In 1994, Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed McNary to replace County Judge Mary Jean McAllister, who was removed from the bench by the Florida Supreme Court.

A graduate of Howard University Law School, McNary previously had worked as a legal aid lawyer and an assistant county attorney.

George Sanchez, a Palm Harbor general practitioner who once worked as a prosecutor, contended that she lacked legal experience before her appointment.

But Sanchez, 55, was saddled with a financial statement that showed that he earned only $9,000 last year and still owed more than $6,000 on student loans. He could not be reached for comment.

County Judge, Group 5

Carrere, 59, had served on the county bench for 16 years. But Berfield, 63, had name recognition. He was a two-term Clearwater City Commissioner. He unsuccessfully ran for circuit judge in 1992 and 1994. And he has handled thousands of traffic court cases as a magistrate.

Berfield, campaigned hard, saying he was the common people's candidate and accusing Carrere of becoming aloof.

Neither Carrere nor Berfield could be reached.