Roughly eight years ago, in remarks during his final months on the job, retiring Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Thomas McGrady emphasized a need for more mental health services following a spate of brutal murders.
Last year, his successor, then-Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino, helped start Pinellas County’s first mental health court to connect qualifying defendants facing low-level criminal charges with rehabilitative services.
Now, as newly elected Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge, Shawn Crane will draw on more than a decade of experience running Pasco’s Adult Drug Court, and he hopes to bring a special focus to the 6th Judicial Circuit’s therapeutic courts.
“Treatment courts are important in our system, and they’re important to me personally,” Crane said. “I see great value in them in many ways — value to our community, value for the individual, value for our system.”
Crane started his tenure as chief judge on Saturday, taking over from Rondolino, who was first elected in 2015 and reached his term limit this year. Rondolino attended the Florida State University School of Law, graduating in 1974, and joining the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender’s Office shortly after. He became chief assistant public defender just five years later. Rondolino became a judge in 1990.
During his eight-year tenure, Rondolino shepherded the two counties’ court systems through several transitions, most notably the COVID-19 pandemic. As chief judge, Rondolino had to help the courts find ways to function remotely, using technology like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and implement administrative orders from the Florida Supreme Court related to the pandemic.
As chief judge, Rondolino also helped the courts system undergo a massive shift to paperless technology. And he led the courts during two major leadership changes: Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger retired in 2020 after nearly 25 years in that role, and State Attorney Bernie McCabe died shortly after, following nearly three decades as the circuit’s top prosecutor.
Rondolino said he feels his biggest achievement as chief judge has been helping guide the court system through so many developments.
“My term has really involved huge changes and transition that I don’t think we’ve ever experienced in our legal community and our court system,” he said.
In his retirement, Rondolino is looking to spend more time with his family. He said he feels confident that the circuit will be in good hands under Crane’s leadership. There are 45 circuit judges and 24 county judges in the 6th Judicial Circuit, who serve a population of nearly 1.5 million and have a support staff that includes about 235 administrative employees, according to a news release from the circuit.
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Crane graduated from Stetson University College of Law in 1983 and joined the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office. He was appointed to the bench in 2001 and has held roles in both Pinellas and Pasco counties.
Crane said he decided to run for chief judge because he saw it as a natural next step in his career.
“I think it’s important that we have somebody from Pasco with that experience,” he said. “I think that’s just going to help overall, my ability to work within the system for the benefit of judges in both Pinellas and Pasco County, and also the citizens of Pinellas and Pasco County.”
Crane anticipates that one of the toughest challenges as chief judge will be navigating the court system’s budget and making sure it is adequately funded.
“In the environment we’re in now, there’s a lot of budget issues and that sort of thing,” he said.
One of Crane’s main goals is to build a central courthouse in Pasco County on the same property as the county jail in Land O’ Lakes, an initiative that has been on the minds of county officials since the early 2000s.
“Pasco is really an area of great growth, and as far as population goes, they’re certainly on the road to catching up to Pinellas,” Crane said.
Serving as administrative judge in Pasco County, Crane said he earned the nickname “Chief Judge of Pasco County” from Rondolino. In that role, Crane oversaw the day-to-day functioning of the courts and their programs for the county.
Crane said he feels “lucky” to follow Rondolino’s footsteps as he begins his role as chief judge.
“He really leaves the circuit in very good shape,” Crane said. “So I’m fortunate to take it over at a very good time.”