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For judicial seat, money often spells v-i-c-t-o-r-y

Judicial candidates prove that big spending can lead to victory, though watchdog groups question that tactic.

Published September 9, 2006

When Ocala lawyer Edward L. Scott first considered running for a seat on the 5th Judicial Circuit bench, he was told to put everything he had into the campaign. Not only time and energy, but money, too.

"I basically had whatever money set aside for my retirement someday, and I had to use it," said Scott, who put in $180,000 and plans to spend more in November's runoff election.

For down-ballot races like circuit court judgeships, raising money is difficult, but money is vital to victory, candidates and experts said.

This paradox led candidates like Scott - and many others, including lawyers Paul Jeske of Tampa and Jack Day of St. Petersburg - to put hefty sums of their savings into their campaign coffers.

It paid off for the majority of candidates in the 5th, 6th and 13th judicial circuits, which cover Pinellas and Hillsborough counties north to Citrus County.

In seven of the 12 area circuit court races, the candidate who spent the most won the most votes Tuesday, according to a St. Petersburg Times analysis of campaign finance data and unofficial election results.

All told, more than $2-million was spent on the judicial elections, and the most expensive races were for open bench seats in the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Citrus and Hernando counties.

In some ways, big spending and candidate loans are unavoidable. It costs money to get a candidate's name in front of voters, whether through billboards, radio commercials or yard signs.

Circuit judges, who handle family law, civil law and felony cases, make $145,080 a year.

[Last modified September 9, 2006, 06:02:27]

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