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Ex-judge advocated on behalf of children

Former Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Charles W. Burke has died at 81.

Mr. Burke, who served on the bench for six years, died Thursday (Jan. 29, 2004) at Park Place of Pinellas Park.

Gov. Reubin Askew appointed Mr. Burke to the 6th Judicial Circuit Court in 1974 when Ben Overton was named to the Florida Supreme Court.

After Mr. Burke lost an election bid in 1980 for another term on the bench, he went to work as the director of the Child Support Division for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.

Mr. Burke's son-in-law, Darryl LeClair, recalled spending Saturday afternoons with the former judge watching his alma mater's team, the University of Florida Gators, play football. He said Mr. Burke was a thoughtful man who talked about how he championed the cause of children whose fathers weren't making child support payments.

"He's a very soft-spoken man. He only spoke when he really, truly had something to say. He was just a gentle soul," LeClair said.

Mr. Burke's time on the bench was marked by controversy.

In 1978, he ordered an Evening Independent reporter to answer questions without legal representation, and that same year, he divulged to newspapers the criminal record of a black man fatally shot by a white police officer.

During his 1980 election campaign, he defended his actions in a letter to the St. Petersburg Times, writing that even reporters are "under duty to answer material questions" that don't incriminate them, and that it was the public's "absolute right to know" about the man's criminal record.

An appeals court reversed his ruling ordering the reporter to testify.

Born in Atlanta while his father was in law school, Mr. Burke came to St. Petersburg in 1932, when his father, George W. Burke, accepted the position of chief attorney of veterans affairs at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center.

He was a 1940 graduate of St. Petersburg High School and graduated from St. Petersburg Junior College. He received a law degree from the University of Florida in 1950.

He was a World War II Army Air Forces veteran and retired as a colonel from the Air Force Reserve after 30 years of service. He received the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.

He practiced law for more than 20 years before becoming a judge and was president of the St. Petersburg Bar Association in 1973.

He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Dorothy G.; two daughters, Myra Burke Allen, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and Melissa Burke LeClair, St. Petersburg; a son, Michael S., Captiva Island; a sister, Martie B. Pettebone, St. Petersburg; a brother, John T., Treasure Island; and three grandsons, Colton Burke LeClair and Cody Anthony LeClair, both of St. Petersburg, and Charles Edward Allen, Holloman Air Force Base.

A graveside service will be at 2:15 p.m. Thursday at Bay Pines National Cemetery, 10000 Bay Pines Blvd., with a reception from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave.

The family suggests donations to Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, 300 E Bay Drive, Largo, FL 33770.

Anderson-McQueen Funeral Homes & Cremation Tribute Center-Ninth Street Chapel, St. Petersburg is in charge.

_ Information from Times files was used in this obituary.