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Citrus lawyer narrowly upsets Judge Thurman // 5TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT

Challenger Michael Blackstone, a Crystal River lawyer, upset Citrus Judge John Thurman in a down-to-the-wire battle Tuesday in the 5th Judicial Circuit, the state Division of Elections reported.

Final results for the group 11 seat, as reported to the division in Tallahassee and posted on the Internet, showed Blackstone winning by 77 votes.

In the Group 9 race, the division reported that Judge Jack Singbush held off a strong challenge from Ocala lawyer John Welch. In the Group 3 race, Barbara Gurrola and Curtis Neal will square off in a November runoff.

The races are non-partisan and the winners in Groups 3 and 11 will serve in Citrus County, while the group 9 winner works in Ocala. The jobs are for six-year terms that pay $104,620 per year. The circuit includes Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties.

This was the first time in his 12 years on the bench Thurman, 49, faced opposition. Blackstone, 40, promised that if elected he would make the post more visible. Thurman, who touted his wide range of experience, questioned Blackstone's plan, saying an effective judge should maintain a healthy distance from the public.

Reports showed that Singbush won by about 1,200 votes.

Singbush, 44, became a circuit judge in 1989 when he defeated Wallace Sturgis. He took office in 1990 and, during his six years on the bench, has handled 36,000 hearings, mostly in Hernando and Marion counties. Singbush prides himself on using innovative methods in handling juvenile delinquents and hopes to make better use of courtroom technology.

Welch, 55, has practiced law the past 28 years, mostly in Ocala. He said he challenged Singbush because the judge was consistently late for court, did not keep his docket current and otherwise was failing in his duties.

The Group 3 race featured three candidates with various levels of experience. Gurrola, 53, was a junior high school English teacher in the Midwest for many years, while Neal, 41, started his career with the Florida Highway Patrol. The third candidate, Willard Pope, was a Marion County sheriff's deputy for 10 years before leaving to get his law degree.

State records showed that Gurrola beat Neal by about 12,000 votes, with Pope coming in a distant third.

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