Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge
Judges in circuit court preside over felony criminal cases, estates and juvenile matters, and handle civil disputes involving more than $30,000. Circuit judges are elected to six-year terms and paid $182,060 annually, as of July 1. Judicial races are nonpartisan and open to all voters.
Group 22: Cynthia Newton
Voters have two good choices in Group 22, but the edge goes to incumbent Cynthia Newton.
Newton, 55, is a graduate of St. Petersburg High School and the University of South Carolina. After earning her law degree from the Gonzaga University School of Law, she worked as an assistant public defender for about a decade. In 2004, voters elected her to an open judge seat, and she was reelected in 2010 and 2016 without opposition.
Like many local judges, she started in the family law division and then moved to the criminal division. She’s now overseeing civil cases, which she says she “really loves.” She has presided over 150 jury trials, and appellate courts rarely overturn her decisions. Local lawyers who have appeared in her court called her fair, straightforward and a good communicator. The Florida Supreme Court has also appointed her to act as a referee in complaints against lawyers brought by the Florida Bar, which points to the high court’s confidence in her judgment.
Newton’s challenger, Nicholas Fiorentino, is a graduate of Clearwater High School, the University of South Florida and Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. He’s been a lawyer for 19 years, mostly in family law, though he has handled probate, personal injury, civil and criminal cases, too. He’s also a critical incident attorney for the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association and the Florida Police Benevolent Association, a job that entails representing law enforcement officers involved in shootings, custody deaths, on duty accidents, internal affairs, civil cases and other legal matters. Not surprisingly, he is endorsed by several local first responder unions, including the Suncoast PBA and the Fraternal Order of Police for District 3.
Fiorentino, 43, is active in the community and appears to have the demeanor and acumen to be a judge. If he is unsuccessful in this race, we would encourage him to run for judge again. Newton, however, has more experience and a proven track record on the bench. It takes time to learn how to be a good, efficient judge. In this case, there isn’t a strong enough reason to toss away that experience to make room for a rookie judge. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Cynthia Newton for Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge, Group 22.
Group 27: Keith Meyer
Incumbent Keith Meyer has served well since becoming a judge and deserves another term. Meyer, 47, is a former prosecutor who also worked in private practice before winning an election in 2010 for an open judge position. He was reelected without opposition in 2016 and has served in the family, criminal and civil divisions.
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As a judge, Meyer has proven to be fair, and he still has the drive to do the job. He’s friendly and, when appropriate, doesn’t mind sprinkling in some humor, which can go a long way to diffusing tension in the courtroom. Meyer has an appetite for learning new things, a good trait in a judge who handles complex civil disputes. “When you love to go to work every day you aren’t really working,” he told the editorial board.
Scott Finelli, 50, is running for judge for the first time. He was a schoolteacher for nine years before earning a law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law. He was a legal intern and then worked for Bay Area Legal Services before going into private practice in 2011. He has worked mostly in the family, probate and general civil fields, with some experience in personal injury.
We like Finelli’s dedication and life experience, but he lacks Meyer’s overall legal experience. We see no reason not to support Meyer for another term. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Keith Meyer for Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge, Group 27.
The recommendation process
Before making a recommendation, the Times Editorial Board asks candidates to fill out questionnaires and sit for an interview. The process can also include running criminal and civil background checks, interviewing candidates’ colleagues and employers, reviewing voting records and financial disclosures and examining candidates’ past and current positions on relevant issues.
Candidates not recommended by the editorial board are offered an opportunity to reply. Judicial candidates may send replies of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Aug. 4 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.