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  • | 6:00 p.m. August 13, 2004
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Hillsborough County's judicial candidates appeal to Tampa Bay area trial lawyers.

By David R. Corder

Associate Editor

Beth Reineke understood the importance of this judicial forum. It was a chance for the Hillsborough County circuit judge candidate to reach an important group of decision-makers, the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates.

The solo practitioner arrived well ahead of other candidates, including her opponent, incumbent Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Bergmann. It gave her time to find the ideal spot for a campaign sign and to distribute campaign literature throughout the Tampa Garden Center. Much is at stake for this first-time judicial candidate: definitely votes, possibly campaign contributions and, perhaps, even chapter members' influence on other voters.

About 40 to 50 judges and attorneys attended the Aug. 4 forum in South Tampa and heard brief appeals from most of the local judicial candidates qualified to seek voter attention at the Aug. 31 primary or Nov. 2 general election.

All of the candidates for the Group 11 county judge race attended. Attorneys Henry A. Gill Jr., Elizabeth G. Rice and Brad Souders each want to replace retiring County Judge Elvin Martinez. The forum gave Gill a chance to flout a St. Petersburg Times' endorsement.

The two opponents in the Group 15 race also attended. County Judge Paul Huey faces a challenge from creditors' rights attorney Victor H. Veschio. Although he didn't flout it, Huey, too, earned a Times' endorsement.

Apparently the challengers in the race for the Groups 10 and 13 county judge races didn't consider the judicial forum worth the effort. Group 10 challenger Kim Hernandez Vance did not appear. Her opponent, County Judge Charlotte Anderson, did. Nor did Group 13 challenger Chris A. DeBock. But his opponent, County Judge Art McNeil, attended. Both Anderson and McNeil also earned Times' endorsements.

The attendance at this forum far outnumbered any other judicial forum that Bergmann has attended in his bid to retain his seat. At most forums, he told the audience, only about 15 or so voters have attended.

"We've probably been to eight or nine forums, and this is the best attended forum," he said.

Tampa attorney Woody Isom, the chapter president, told the group why he considered the forum an important outlet for the judicial candidates. He cited the lessons he learned as a judicial candidate two years ago.

"The public looks to lawyers for guidance on judicial races," he said. "I know there are a lot of people in the bar not here tonight for whatever reason. I would hope you guys go back and talk to your brethren. I know that I know a lot more about these ladies and gentlemen than I did before I came in her, and I'm sure you do, too."

It's important for lawyers to get involved no matter who they support, Isom said.

"A lot of lawyers like to complain about the outcome of judicial races," he said. "There are a lot of lawyers who contribute money to judicial races. There are a few lawyers who actually sweat and go door to door. There are a few lawyers who will put a sign up. There are a few lawyers who will stand at the polls for you on election day.

"It is very important to us, particularly as trial lawyers going to court everyday, that we get the best qualified candidates elected to the bench," he added. "The only way to do that is get involved."


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