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3 seek tainted judge's seat

6th Circuit Court Judge: Group 32

By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
Published August 23, 2006

 
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A veteran prosecutor and two private-practice lawyers who have extensive family law experience are seeking the bench being vacated by retiring judge Brandt Downey.

Assistant State Attorney Pat Siracusa and lawyers LeAnne Lake and Mark Schleben will vie for the seat in the Sept. 5 primary. Downey agreed to retire from his Group 32 bench at the end of this year after allegations surfaced that he viewed pornography at the office and harassed two female prosecutors.

Lake said the accusations against Downey were one reason she decided to get into the race. She said too many local judges don't show enough respect to the people who appear before them.

"As an attorney, I have some horror stories that you wouldn't believe," Lake said. "I think the public has lost some confidence in the judiciary, and that concerns me."

Lake, who has been a lawyer for 16 years, has applied twice for an open judgeship with the Judicial Nominating Commission, but she has not been named a finalist. She said she has tried more than 400 nonjury trials, mostly divorces and other family law cases. She has never tried a jury trial.

Mark Schleben also does most of his work in family court. He said he has handled hundreds of cases, though most have been nonjury trials. He has never applied for an open judgeship.

Schleben, a lawyer for 23 years, said he has done a smattering of work in criminal law and some cases in probate court.

"I think I have a greater breadth of experience than my opponents and more time at it, too," he said.

Schleben won't take campaign contributions from fellow lawyers because he thinks it would create the appearance of a conflict of interest if he were elected and the lawyers who supported him appeared in his courtroom. His opponents said that would not create a conflict of interest for them.

Pat Siracusa has been a prosecutor for 11 years. Last year, he was named prosecutor of the year in the Pinellas-Pasco circuit. He said he has applied for an open judgeship with the Judicial Nominating Commission four times but has never been named a finalist.

Siracusa has tried more than 100 jury trials in his career. He also teaches and lectures on search and seizure law and child abduction investigations.

Siracusa said his jury trial experience has been valuable in preparing him for the bench.

"I think it's important how many jury trials someone has done, and I think you will find that I have more jury trial experience," he said.

- CHRIS TISCH, Times staff writer

THE CANDIDATES

LeAnne Lake, 42, graduated from the Stetson University College of Law in 1989 and has been in private practice since. She is divorced and has no children. She volunteers with Operation PAR and the Kiwanis of Largo/Mid-Pinellas.

Assets: home, two trucks.

Liabilities: mortgage.

Income: law practice.

Mark Schleben, 50, is a Michigan native who graduated from the University of Florida law school in 1980. He has been a self-employed lawyer for 22 years. He is divorced. He is engaged. He has a 14-year-old daughter.

Assets: condo, car.

Liabilities: mortgage, car loan, credit cards.

Income: law practice.

Pat Siracusa, 38, graduated from the University of Florida law school in 1993. He has worked as a prosecutor for 11 years. He is an adjunct instructor at St. Petersburg College and teaches at the Child Protection Training Center and at the Counterdrug Training Task Force. He is married and has a 3-year-old daughter.

Assets: house, car, retirement fund.

Liabilities: mortgage.

Income: salary.

The Job
Circuit judges are elected on a nonpartisan basis to a six-year term. They preside over criminal and civil cases in Pinellas and Pasco counties. They might handle felonies, family law, juvenile cases and lawsuits alleging damages of more than $15,000. The job pays $145,080 per year.

[Last modified August 22, 2006, 17:38:41]

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