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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 20, 2004 17 years ago

Meet the Candidates

Judicial and clerk's office hopefuls stress their legal experience, community involvement.

Meet the Candidates

Judicial and clerk's office hopefuls stress their legal experience, community involvement.

By Hali White

Special to the Review

Candidates for the Pinellas County circuit and county judicial races, as well as candidates for the 6th Circuit Clerk of Court, met Aug. 11 for a meet-and-greet forum.

Several dozen people gathered in the activities center at the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida to hear the candidates' brief speeches. The event was sponsored by the St. Petersburg Bar Association and its foundation.

Judge Sonny Im, incumbent candidate for Pinellas County court, Group 1, used humor and a relaxed manner to present his plea for votes. Im and Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer, known for his role in the Terri Schiavo case, are the circuit's only two incumbents who face opposition.

"My name is Im," he said. "Only two letters - my family was too poor to purchase the third letter." Of his children's names - he joked he wanted to name them William and Susan, but his wife refused to have a lawyer's children named "Bill'em and Sue'em."

On a serious note, Im stressed his immigrant-makes-good success story - telling how immigration from Korea at age 11 and his family's efforts to succeed in America influenced his own work ethic.

Im's opponent, John Carballo, a career public defender who trains the office's new attorneys, touted his courtroom experience as his main selling point. He promises he won't use county court as a rung on the ladder to circuit court: "This court is very important to me. This is where I wish to finish my career."

Vying for Group 13, Kathleen Hessinger stressed her experience as a Stetson trial team coach - as well as her experience as a working mother and a Sunday school teacher. Her opponent, Robert "Bo" Michael, continued his campaign strategy of name-dropping his family and political connections, including an endorsement by Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist. His attempt at humor - listing top excuses used by dads in child support hearings - seemed to fall flat.

Incumbent Judge Greer joked that Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger and State Attorney Bernie McCabe endorsed him, noting, "it's rare for them to agree on anything." Otherwise, he pointed to almost 12 years' experience on the bench as his greatest strength.

Greer's opponent, Jan Govan, not only broke the unwritten rule about opposing incumbents - he used the forum to make disparaging remarks about the sitting judge. "Florida is deeply wounded because of my opponent's rulings," he said.

In several other not-too-subtle references to Greer's involvement in the Schiavo right-to-die case, Govan emphasized the word "life" in his speeches. In closing, he urged voters to "vote as if your life depended on it."

In the crowded race for Group 22, Michael Berry emphasized his unusual practice area - recovering kidnapped children - and said he would work to end frivolous litigation. Jack Day mentioned his Web site ( Cynthia Newton focused on her extensive trial experience as an assistant public defender. Walter "Skip" Schafer tried to set himself apart by reminding the audience that he was the only candidate to have opposed the scandalized Judge Charles Cope in an earlier bid for the bench. And Bill Vinson pointed to his Southern gentleman's heritage, including a brief narrative of his family's lineage and history of public service.

In the race for clerk, Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst touted his experience as a public leader. Opponent Ken Burke stressed his history of community involvement. Opponent Carolyn Wadlinger stressed her long history as a member of upper management in Cleveland's health care community.

The opportunity for questions and answers from the attending public was largely used for candidates to stress their community involvement.

Candidate Qualifications

As Hurricane Charley approached Florida's West Coast on Aug. 12, the Clearwater Bar Association and the League of Women Voters of North Pinellas County held a candidates forum.

Voters showed up at the downtown Clearwater Harborview Center, across from the intracoastal waterway. As cars leaving the beach for higher ground passed the Clearwater Memorial Bridge, candidates for clerk of the court and judge answered questions about their qualifications.

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