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One of two open judge seats filled

Gov. Jeb Bush has appointed a lawyer with experience as a traffic court judge to fill one of two vacant county judge positions in Hillsborough County.

Mark R. Wolfe, 43, said he hopes to start March 1 after wrapping up his private law practice.

"I am very excited about getting down to business," he said. "Being a judge has been a goal of mine for some time."

Wolfe lost his bid for county judge in the 1996 election and had been nominated but never selected on five or six past occasions. He will fill a position created by the Legislature last year to help with the county's increasing caseload.

Chief Judge Dennis Alvarez has not decided whether to put Wolfe in the civil or misdemeanor division. Either way, Alvarez said, he's happy to have another judge on board.

"We'll get him going as soon as we can," Alvarez said.

Wolfe has 17 years in practice, with three years as an assistant public defender. He is board certified in appeals work, which he has concentrated on for the past few years. He also spent three years presiding over night traffic court, hearing about 8,000 cases.

He spent more than 10 years helping the abused and neglected children in the Guardian Ad Litem program. He also participated in Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. Wolfe is single and has no children.

Another county judgeship, which became vacant when former County Judge James Barton was appointed to the Circuit Court last year, remains open.

The judicial nominating committee will submit three to six names for that position in the next week. The governor then has 60 days to make a selection.

The sooner the better, Alvarez said. Two circuit judges, Diana Allen and Bob Mitcham, remain out on medical leave, which has forced Alvarez to juggle assignments and retain retired judges to fill in.

"We need all the judges just to keep up with the caseload," he said.