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PINELLAS-PASCO CIRCUIT JUDGES // Luten's 20-year run on bench ends

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

For the first time in 16 years, an incumbent circuit court judge has been defeated in the 6th Judicial Circuit, which covers Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Walt Logan, a St. Petersburg general practitioner, narrowly defeated Claire K. Luten, a 20-year veteran of the bench. Logan and Luten ran about dead even in Pinellas. But in Pasco, Logan ran more than 2,000 votes ahead.

He ran unsuccessfully for circuit judge in 1990, 1992 and 1994, but built up name recognition in Pasco in the process.

"I've always loved Pasco," he said. Taking on an incumbent was not easy, Logan said, "but I thought it was something that needed to be done."

Luten could not be reached.

In Group 17, St. Petersburg probate lawyer Mark Shames narrowly defeated Sarah Chaves, a St. Petersburg family practice lawyer.

Two other circuit races were heading for runoffs in the Nov. 5 general election.

In Group 1, Lauren Laughlin took nearly twice as many votes as her nearest competitor. She will face prosecutor Nicholas F. Mooney, who squeaked past Clearwater lawyer Dean Hoolihan.

St. Petersburg lawyer Marion Fleming and prosecutor Shawn Crane will square off in a Group 6 runoff.

Circuit judges, who earn $104,620 a year, preside over felony criminal trials, major civil disputes, family and juvenile courts and probate matters.

Group 16

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

Luten, 56, told voters that "what you see is what you get." No one has to wonder whether she understands the law or can manage a docket, she said. However, she alienated police and prosecutors by suggesting that confessions should be tape-recorded. Prosecutors tried to force her to step down on all cases involving confessions, but the appellate court supported her.

Both of the Pinellas County's police unions endorsed Logan.

The last time a sitting circuit judge was defeated in the 6th circuit was 1980, when Gerard O'Brien unseated Charles W. Burke.

Group 17

Both Shames, 45, and Chaves, 47, are well-known members of St. Petersburg's legal establishment.

He was president of the St. Petersburg Bar Association, president of the Pinellas County Trial Lawyer's Association and a member of the St. Petersburg Planning Commission and numerous other public organizations.

She is a board member of the bar association.

Chaves tried to stress that she had more litigation experience than Shames because he is a probate lawyer and she is a family practice lawyer with some civil experience.

But Shames had more than 100 lawyers endorsing him on his letterhead. He also disputed Chaves' implications about his litigation experience. Many of his estate cases involve contentious wills, he said, and early in his 20-year career he handled family practice cases.

Group 1

Laughlin, 46, came to the law late, after a career in marketing. After graduating from Stetson University College of Law, she immediately went to work for the 6th Judicial Circuit's probate division, where she has worked her way up to staff counsel.

Mooney, 36, is a veteran prosecutor with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office who stressed his criminal trial experience.

In addition to Hoolihan, St. Petersburg general practitioner Mark Lewis also did not win enough votes to make a runoff.

Group 6

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.

Crane, 37, is 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.