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Election 2004

Pinellas County Judge: Im falls to challenger

Published September 1, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Pinellas County Judge Sonny Im, dogged by questions about his campaign tactics, was upset Tuesday by Assistant Public Defender John Carballo.

Im, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to the bench two years ago, trailed throughout the evening in a contest that was not particularly close.

"I'm just honored by the trust that the citizens of Pinellas County have placed in me," Carballo said.

The race between Im and Carballo was marked by controversy.

Im, in a speech to the Fraternal Order of Police, referred to Carballo as a "public offender." Critics said Im's remark called into question his objectivity and respect for the Public Defenders' Office.

There also were questions about how many trials Im claimed to have participated in. Im reported 550 nonjury and 63 jury trials to the Pinellas-Pasco Judicial Nominating Commission, but reported to the Times 850 nonjury trials and "well over 70 jury trials."

Im, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday night, defended his numbers.

"I'm not going to make up a number if it's not true," he said last week.

Carballo, 49, is an 18-year assistant public defender. He earned an undergraduate degree from Florida International University and a law degree from the Stetson University College of Law, graduating in 1985.

Carballo has 15 years of experience in capital litigation and was selected Attorney of the Year in 2000 in the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender's Office.

In another Pinellas County judge race Tuesday, Kathy Hessinger easily defeated Robert "Bo" Michael for an open seat on the bench.

"I feel proud of the fact that people listened to my credentials . . . and believe in me," Hessinger said Tuesday night.

Hessinger said campaigning for a job was a humbling experience, but one she's glad she went through.

"I went in with this not really knowing what I was going to go through," she said.

Hessinger, 39, is a Florida native who graduated from Florida Southern College, majoring in political science. She earned her law degree from the Stetson University College of Law in 1990.

She was a Pinellas prosecutor from 1990 to 1993 before entering private practice. She worked for the law firm of Deacon and Moulds.

[Last modified September 1, 2004, 01:09:34]

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