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Low-key judge makes big news

In his 12 years on the bench, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Sam Pendino hasn't been one of Tampa's highest-profile judges.

That is until recently, when Pendino became the judge on former Mayor Bill Poe's challenge to a new football stadium, a major local news event that culminated with Friday's decision.

Pendino, who became a county judge in 1984, has had his name pop up in the news in a handful of cases _ a big-money development battle, a dispute over removing the Confederate battle flag from the county seal, a foster father accused of abuse.

Mostly, Chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez said, Pendino, 52, just does his job.

"Basically, he's an independent, low-key type individual," said Alvarez, who was a classmate of Pendino's at Jesuit High School. "He's very dedicated to his work, works hard."

Raised in West Tampa, Pendino majored in American studies at Stetson University and attended Cumberland School of Law in Alabama. He worked for a time as a Hillsborough assistant state attorney before running unopposed for county judge in 1984. On the county bench, he presided over criminal and traffic cases.

In 1988, Pendino came up briefly in the news when a misdemeanor charge alleging that he hunted doves over a baited field was thrown out of court. Then a novice dove hunter, Pendino allowed in court papers that he wouldn't have known the field was baited even if he had seen the bait.

Pendino ran unopposed for a circuit seat in 1990 and again in 1996. On the circuit bench, he has been assigned to criminal, family law, juvenile and civil courts.