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For Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court

A Times Editorial
Published October 19, 2006

Two Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court seats will be decided on Nov. 7. These are nonpartisan offices with six-year terms. In both races, the candidates are the two top vote-getters from the September primary.

In evaluating which attorneys will make the best jurists, the considerations include professional credentials, compassion and fairness. Circuit judges are called upon to handle felony cases as well as family law, juvenile cases and civil lawsuits with damages of more than $15,000.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Group 9: Christine Helinger 

Helinger was the frontrunner coming out of the primary, and we believe the veteran public defender is the best choice to replace retiring Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell.

Helinger, 55, has worked for the last 25 years for the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender's Office.

Since 1997, she has been working there part time, specializing in some of the office's toughest, most challenging cases, including death penalty cases. In 2000, Helinger was named the best assistant public defender in the state.

Those who know her work speak highly of her legal skills and tenaciousness. She has tried more than 80 cases as a lead attorney. And Helinger sums up her legal philosophy by saying what matters is that "you really believe in the Constitution."

While public defenders are limited in the kind of pro-bono activities in which they may engage, Helinger has been an active volunteer in her children's public schools, donating hundreds of hours.

She says that the qualities essential to being a good judge are "patience, integrity, a sense of fair play, open mindedness and hard work." Helinger says she has these qualities as well as a spirit of public service.

Challenging Helinger is Glenn Martin, who has been a prosecutor in the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office for 22 years. Martin, 53, is known as a good lawyer, a straight arrow and someone who is fair to defendants. Before becoming a lawyer, Martin was a police officer in St. Petersburg. The questions raised about Martin's candidacy have to do with demeanor and temperament.

For Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Group 9, the Times recommends Christine Helinger.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Group 32: Pat Siracusa

This race is between a seasoned prosecutor and an attorney in private practice. The clear choice to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Judge Brandt Downey is Pat Siracusa, a prosecutor in the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. Siracusa, 38, almost didn't have to stand for election in November. He won 49 percent of the vote in the primary, just shy of what was needed to win the seat outright.

Siracusa is a veteran in the courtroom, having been lead attorney on 80 cases during his 11 years as an assistant state attorney. Those who know his work say that he's a smart lawyer with solid skills. In 2005, he was named Prosecutor of the Year for the 6th Judicial Circuit by Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

Since 1998, Siracusa has been an adjunct instructor at St. Petersburg College lecturing on the fundamentals of the criminal justice system. Siracusa spends a great deal of time offering training seminars statewide and nationally. He also volunteers in the public schools around Pinellas County, introducing young people to his profession during the schools' law day commemorations as well as warning high school students of the dangers of drugs and driving drunk.

Siracusa says that despite his career as a prosecutor he will be fair to defendants. "People need to be forgiven on occasion," Siracusa says. "There is redemption."

LeAnne Lake, 42, is also running in Group 32. Lake has been a lawyer with her own private litigation practice for most of the 16 years she's been working. Lake's practice is primarily centered on family law, though she has legal experience in other civil and criminal areas. Still, Lake says she has never been lead counsel in a jury trial, despite having tried almost 400 non-jury cases.

For Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Group 32, the Times recommends Pat Siracusa.

[Last modified October 19, 2006, 07:46:57]

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