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Laughlin leads; Fleming battles for win // PASCO-PINELLAS CIRCUIT JUDGES

Pinellas and Pasco counties apparently elected one new circuit court judge Tuesday, but a second race was too close to call.

Lauren Laughlin, staff counsel for the 6th Judicial Circuit's probate division, held a commanding lead over prosecutor Nicholas F. Mooney in the Group 1 race, with roughly half of the vote counted.

In Group 6, Marion Fleming, a St. Petersburg family practice lawyer, was leading prosecutor Shawn Crane by a few percentage points.

Laughlin, 46, worked in advertising and marketing for several years before earning a law degree at the University of Florida. After law school, she served as a general master, administrator and staff counsel in the probate division, which oversees Baker Act commitments, guardianship cases and will disputes.

Mooney, 36, contended that Laughlin lacked jury trial experience. In a flier, he even referred to her derisively as a "law clerk." But Laughlin noted that she has helped write probate reform legislation and has taught probate law to judges.

"I've been in court in enough trials over the last seven years. I can call the balls and strikes," she said. "The rules of evidence are the same no matter who you are."

Fleming, 57, worked as a prosecutor in the misdemeanor division after graduating from Stetson University College of Law, then moved on to private practice. On the campaign trail, she emphasized the variety of her experience and also the fact that she raised three children and is the wife of an Episcopal minister.

Crane, 37, stressed his jury trial experience. He graduated from Stetson University College of Law 12 years ago and has worked with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office ever since. He supervised other attorneys in the felony division and currently oversees more than 30 assistant state attorneys in the county court division.