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Pinellas

Group 13 Pinellas County Judge

One vs. one: Two lawyers, both of whom guessed there would be no incumbent, hope to reach the county bench.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Published August 24, 2004

In the race for Pinellas County judge Group 13, both candidates took a guess that the incumbent wouldn't be around for the Aug. 31 primary.

Lawyers Kathleen Hessinger and Robert "Bo" Michael figured Pinellas County Judge Amy Williams was about to be appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to the circuit bench to replace Judge Charles Cope, who resigned.

Williams said Hessinger and Michael both told her they would step out of the race if that didn't happen. Well, it did.

The result is a race for an open seat with just two candidates. That compares with the five vying for the seat opened with Circuit Judge Tom Penick's retirement.

Michael, a St. Petersburg attorney, is making his third run for a judgeship since 2000. His father, Robert F. Michael, was a retired Pinellas-Pasco Circuit judge.

Michael worked for six months ending in June as an assistant state attorney general working on child support enforcement actions. Previously, he has worked for several law firms doing personal injury work and has worked on class-action lawsuits.

Michael said his experience working with people is superior to his opponent, who he said has worked representing insurance companies and nursing homes. He said dealing with people is an important part of County Court.

"I consider myself a people person," Michael said. "And so many people in County Court represent themselves. They don't have a clue about what's going on."

Hessinger, also a St. Petersburg attorney, is making her first run for public office. Her husband, Tim Hessinger, works as a felony prosecutor for State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

Last year, Hessinger was one of five finalists recommended to Gov. Jeb Bush by the local Judicial Nominating Commission to fill a County Court seat.

Hessinger worked three years as a Pinellas prosecutor before entering private practice. She also has held the position of adjunct professor at the Stetson University College of Law. She currently specializes in medical malpractice litigation.

She also said she has the right skills for county court. "People in county court need to know they have had their day in court and the judge will listen to them," she said. "The judicial system does work in the end."

THE JOB

County judges preside over criminal traffic and misdemeanor cases and civil traffic infractions. They also handle civil suits that involve claims for less than $15,000. They are elected on a nonpartisan basis to four-year terms and earn $121,325 per year.

THE CANDIDATES

KATHLEEN HESSINGER, 39, is a Florida native who says her practice is devoted entirely to litigation. She graduated from Florida Southern College, majoring in political science. She earned her law degree from the Stetson University College of Law in 1990. She has helped train Stetson students in mock trial competitions. She was a Pinellas prosecutor from 1990 to 1993 before entering private practice. She now works for the law firm of Deacon and Moulds. She is married and has a child. ASSETS: home, car, shares in law firm, investments. LIABILITIES: mortgage, car loan, law firm liability. SOURCE OF INCOME: salary.

ROBERT "BO" MICHAEL, 44, is a St. Petersburg attorney and a lifelong resident of the city. Michael graduated from Stetson University and earned a law degree from the University of South Carolina College of Law. He has worked in both civil and criminal law. He left a position as an assistant state attorney general to run for office. He is the son of retired Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Robert Michael. He and his wife, Linda, live in St. Petersburg with their four children. ASSETS: home, investments. LIABILITIES: mortgage, bank loan. SOURCE OF INCOME: salary, trust. E-MAIL: RMichael4judge@yahoo.com

[Last modified August 23, 2004, 16:56:41]

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