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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 27, 2004 15 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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This week's items: It's best to be an incumbentGulf Coast bankers head up FBAJudge Greer is under attack again for his decision to allow Terri Schindler-Schiavo's feeding tube to be removed

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

It's best to be an incumbent

Tampa attorney Chris DeBock took a beating in a judicial preferences poll sponsored by the Hillsborough County Bar Association. The county judicial candidate received the lowest percentage of votes from association members who have personal knowledge of Hillsborough's 2004 judicial candidates.

Only 7% of those who know DeBock highly approve of his candidacy as a judge, according to the poll. That compares with 70% of those who highly approve of his opponent, incumbent County Judge Art McNeil. Nearly 90% disapprove of DeBock's candidacy. Only 6% disapprove of McNeil's candidacy.

The judicial preference poll showed similar results for challengers to the three other incumbents who face opposition this year.

Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Bergmann earned a 79% rating as highly approved. That was the highest of any of the judicial candidates included in the poll. He also earned the lowest disapproval rating, 4%. In contrast, opponent Beth Reineke earned a 25% approval rating, with a disapproval rate of 57%.

County Judge Paul Huey earned a 68% rating from voters who highly approve of him. Opponent Victor H. Veschio, a 26% rating. Nearly 50% disapprove of Veschio's candidacy, while 11% disapprove of Huey.

Of the incumbents, only County Judge Charlotte Anderson earned a rating below 60%. Voters who know her and highly approve accounted for 55% of the votes. But she also earned another 32% of the vote from those who approve of her candidacy. Opponent Kim Anderson Vance earned a rating of 23%.

In the race to replace retiring County Judge Elvin Martinez, Elizabeth Rice earned the highest approval rating from association members. She received a 70% rating, while opponents Brad Souders earned a 46% rating and Henry Gill earned a 36% rating.

Coffee Talk wonders if the voters, who aren't lawyers, will vote similarly.

Gulf Coast bankers head up FBA

Dade City isn't normally thought of as a financial center.

But, at least for the next 12 months, the landscape of Florida banking will tip ever so slightly in the direction of the east Pasco County city. J. Lamar Roberts, president of the First National Bank of Pasco, is taking a turn as president of the Florida Bankers Association.

"It's quite an honor," says Roberts, who has led the 18-year-old Dade City bank on a path of steady if not spectacular growth.

Roberts was installed at the banker association's annual convention earlier this month at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort in Naples.

The 63-year-old Roberts has been in banking since his teens in Georgia. His first bank presidency came at age 29 when he crossed the state line to head the Dixie County State Bank in Cross City.

Roberts came to First National Bank of Pasco in 1992. The national bank had $87 million in assets, as of March 31.

During the past year, Roberts has traveled extensively around the country as FBA president-elect. He says the FBA compares favorably with any statewide banker group in America.

"We're a winner. We're an ace," Roberts told GCBR. "You know why? We're united."

The FBA has membership among executives affiliated with thrifts and community banks as well as the biggest commercial banks. About 90% of all Florida banks and thrifts belong to the FBA, according to Roberts.

Roberts referred questions about legislative and regulatory priorities for his term to Alejandro "Alex" Sanchez, the FBA's chief executive. But Roberts made an exception for the issue of competitive fairness and the big credit unions.

"Frankly, they're tax-free banks masquerading as credit unions," says Roberts, who would like to see the non-profit status of billion-dollar-asset credit unions reviewed by federal and state authorities.

The FBA's president-elect is Jerry J. Williams, chairman and chief executive of Orion Bank in Naples. Williams, 43, may be familiar to GCBR readers. He was the newspaper's banker of the year in 2003.

Poor Judge Greer

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer - who is being opposed by Jan Govan in the Aug. 31 primary - is under attack again for his decision to allow Terri Schindler-Schiavo's feeding tube to be removed.

In addition to an impeachment petition posted three months ago on the Internet, the foundation fighting to save the woman's life says complaints were filed with Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission against the 12-year judge. Greer's failure to disclose his failing eyesight to those who come before him is one of six issues in a complaint by Juan Schoch, a Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation supporter.

St. Petersburg attorney Pat Anderson, who represents the woman's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, has questioned whether Greer's poor vision impaired his ability to properly view medical evidence presented at hearings.

Greer, who has been endorsed by the St. Petersburg Times, has declined to comment on his eyesight. The Pinellas legal community has rallied behind him, including Tarpon Springs lawyer and former legislator Larry Crow, who also represented the Schindlers until he voiced support for Greer.

In October, the Florida Legislature passed a law forcing doctors to re-insert Schiavo's feeding tube after Greer ordered its removal. Michael Schiavo says his wife has been in a permanent vegetative state for 14 years and would not want to be kept alive with a feeding tube.

Her parents and siblings adamantly oppose him. They say Terri, a devout Catholic, would not voluntarily end her life. They have even quoted the pope in their fight.

Schoch alleges that Greer improperly used a Supreme Court justice's remarks on a brochure, abused his power by soliciting endorsements from court workers during operational hours, attended partisan functions in violation of campaign requirements and solicited campaign contributions from attorneys with cases before him.

George Felos, the attorney who represents Michael Schiavo, has donated $250 to Greer's campaign, according to state election records. Greer declined comment, citing the state's judicial rules.

ETC¦

Former Florida Supreme Court Richard W. Ervin passed away Aug. 24 at the age of 99. In his honor, flags at state buildings are being flown half-staff through Aug. 29.

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