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Late returns show Gurrola ahead of Neal // CIRCUIT JUDGE

After trading leads with her opponent through the night, lawyer Barbara Gurrola was outpacing Curtis Neal of Inverness in the race for Fifth Judicial Circuit Judge, group 3.

Each candidate was performing well in his or her home county. Neal was ahead of Gurrola in Citrus County. But Gurrola took early commanding leads in Marion and Lake counties, where she works and lives, respectively.

The race covers a vast, five-county district, which includes Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties. Judges serve six-year terms and earn $104,620 annually.

"I'm just sitting here waiting, really," Neal said from his office Tuesday night.

The post is open because longtime Circuit Judge John W. Booth is retiring, and Circuit Judge Hale Stancil has asked to be transferred to Sumter County to take Booth's place. The new judge likely will sit in Citrus.

Gurrola, 53, marketed herself as the best candidate because of her well-rounded background. She has been a business woman who owns a law firm, a teacher and a homemaker.

Neal, on the other hand, said he would be a superior judge because he has been a lawyer longer.

He was a Florida Highway Patrol trooper before becoming a lawyer, and has practiced with Fitzpatrick and Fitzpatrick since 1983.