TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s judges voted Tuesday to make Christopher Sabella the next chief judge for the 13th Judicial Circuit.
Sabella garnered the most votes in a race that saw Judges Katherine Essrig and Samantha Ward as candidates.
He will serve a two-year term, succeeding Ronald Ficarrotta, who has been the chief judge since 2015. State law limits the chief judge to eight years.
The election included the 68 circuit and county judges in Hillsborough County. As chief, Sabella will have authority to decide the divisions to which each judge will be assigned. He will also work with the court administrator to develop policies and procedures for the local courts. And he will be the face of the local court system locally and in meetings and events with state leaders.
Sabella was quoted in a news release saying the election was “the greatest honor” of his judicial career.
“I look forward to making the courts more efficient and more accessible to the citizens of Hillsborough County, especially through the use of emerging technology,” Sabella said in the release.
Sabella was appointed to the circuit bench in 2006 by former Gov. Jeb Bush. He previously handled cases in the court’s family law and unified family court divisions.
But he is perhaps most recognizable for his work in the felony criminal divisions. For the last several years, he has handled some of the county’s highest-profile criminal trials.
Most recently, Sabella handled the case of Steven Lorenzo, who last week was sentenced to death for two Tampa murders.
He also presided in the trial of Billy Adams III, the Tampa rapper a jury acquitted in January of a fatal double shooting, days before Adams was re-arrested in a new murder case.
Sabella also was the judge who last year handled the trial of Matthew Terry, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for fatally stabbing his girlfriend, Kay Baker, near her Lithia home.
As chief judge, Sabella will still be able to run a courtroom, though he will likely spend much less time presiding over trials.
A Tampa native, Sabella earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology 1989 from Florida State University and a law degree in 1992 from Stetson University College of Law. He began his career as a federal prosecutor and later worked as the deputy chief legal adviser for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Sabella will be the Hillsborough County’s 14th chief judge. His term begins July 1.