Judicial races, already pretty clean, get another shot of antiseptic
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER and CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
Published June 3, 2004
Compared to other political races, judicial elections are a crushing snooze. The candidates, having law degrees, are circumspect by nature, and a rigid code of conduct usually prevents even the wildest ones from saying much.
Still, no election is without at least a whiff of controversy or display of dubious judgment.
Enter the Hillsborough County Judicial Campaign Practices Committee formed in April by the county bar association with the spur of Circuit Judge Kevin Carey.
The committee chairman, Tampa lawyer Tom Scarritt, said the aim is to enhance the integrity of local judicial elections. The committee will field complaints about candidates' behavior - such as, say, questionable fundraising tactics - and pronounce within days on whether it's ethical.
"Miami has had a committee like this in place for 18 years, and they have had great success with it," Scarritt said. "You hear a lot about political elections in Miami, but you don't hear too much newsworthy about judicial elections." That's thanks, he says, to the committee.
One of the local committee's first moves: Requiring all judicial candidates to sign a pledge that they will adhere to the judicial code of conduct, and will be responsible for the conduct of friends, family and supporters.
By the deadline Wednesday afternoon, all 13 current candidates had returned the pledge with their signature. "I was quite frankly a little surprised, but pleased," Scarritt said. "When lawyers ask another lawyer to sign something, they're initially suspicious."
Hillsborough circuit judges Charles Bergmann and E. Lamar Battles will face opposition in November from lawyers Beth Reinke and Donald Harrison, respectively. On the county bench, Judge Paul Huey is facing opposition from Victor Veschio, Judge Charlotte Anderson from Kim Vance, and Judge Art McNeil from Chris DeBock.
Tampa attorneys Henry Gill, Liz Rice and Brad Souders are running for a seat left open by the impending retirement of County Judge Elvin Martinez.
GAS FUNDS NEARING "E': Taxpayers, take note: The jump in fuel prices is hitting your wallet even when you're not behind the wheel.
Hillsborough County sheriff's officials say if gas prices don't drop soon, the agency will exceed its fuel allowance for the current budget year by tens of thousands of dollars.
The agency's budget for the year ending Sept. 30 is $2.5-million, said Col. Joe Docobo. But with four months to go, the agency has already spent $1.6-million.
"We should have only spent $1.4-million by now," Docobo said. "If we keep going at this rate, we'll exceed our budget substantially."
The budget is based on what gas cost the department around this time last year: $1.32 a gallon (the sheriff's office doesn't pay fuel taxes). Now it's up to $1.60, or 21 percent more.
Capt. Bill Wade, spokesman for Tampa Fire Rescue, said his agency uses diesel more than gasoline, so it isn't feeling the pinch as much. Still, budget analysts expect the department will exceed its $241,000 fuel budget by as much as $20,000.
"Who anticipated this time last year, when the budget was being created, that gas would be $2 a gallon?" Wade said.
The department will shift money from elsewhere in its budget to cover the additional fuel costs.
And for next year's budget, agency leaders will seek more taxpayer money for fuel, Wade said.
QUICK THINKING: In six months, city of Tampa employee Terry Nehring turned a resident's suggestion into a kidnapping-alert system that's now being lauded by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as a model for municipalities and businesses across the state.
The city's Amber Alert Notification System, activated last month, uses e-mail and employees to spread the word quickly about missing children.
Nehring, an electronics superintendent for the city, created a special user group within the city's e-mail system and attached the group to the FDLE's Web site. The 30 employees in the user group automatically get e-mails about missing children.
They carry notebooks with a prepared "script" that helps them deliver the details of the Amber Alert to other employees. Using city radios, they get the word out to employees working throughout Tampa in city vehicles.
The alerts also go out to an electronic news system to which all employees have access. "This gives us 3,000 to 4,000 more pairs of eyes," Nehring said.