tampabay.com

First-timers' race to the runoff gets tad testier

By JOHN FRANK
Published October 28, 2006


As far as elections go, circuit judge races are the least eventful.

They are typically low-cost campaigns where the candidates stick to discussing their education credentials, legal experience and personal background. Judicial ethics keep them from espousing political philosophies that may taint their future rulings.

But the Group 29 race between Sandy Hawkins and Edward L. Scott for a seat on the 5th Judicial Circuit Bench doesn't fit that mold. It's a seemingly David vs. Goliath battle that's turning increasingly ugly as November's runoff election nears.

Scott and Hawkins finished one and two, respectively, in the September primary election with former Hernando County judge Peyton Hyslop finishing third. No candidate received the 50 percent plus 1 to avoid a runoff on Nov. 7.

Scott, an Ocala attorney with 19 years in private practice, is waging a high-dollar, sophisticated campaign with television advertisements and dozens of huge billboards. Through Oct. 13, he spent $235,664 to promote his extensive legal background, which includes being one of the attorneys on a case that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. State finance records show that he loaned himself the bulk of his campaign funds.

A number of his advertisements don't mince words when drawing comparisons with his opponent. One claims Hawkins has no experience with complex litigation, appellate cases, civil trials or divorce and custody matters.

Hawkins, who has nine years experience as an assistant state attorney in Marion County, said Scott's claims are "untrue."

She said she has been involved domestic violence cases, which deal with the issues of child custody and visitation.

In a response letter, she says "this type of behavior is unprofessional, and I consider it unworthy of a person seeking the judicial bench."

Put on the defensive, Hawkins is now on the attack. In the response letter, she notes that Scott had a trial case overturned on appeal, a case sent back because he was found to be ineffective counsel and complaints filed against him with the Florida Bar.

She says her record is clean.

Scott said it's not uncommon to have a case overturned on appeal when "you try as many cases as I have." He said he was 18 months out of law school when he represented a client who was on trial for murder and who later won an appeal based on ineffective council.

And a spokeswoman for the Florida Bar said the two complaints filed against Scott were dismissed.

Hawkins has spent $15,237 in her campaign, 15 times less than Scott for the same time period. She hasn't bought expensive advertisements, opting instead for the door-to-door approach. She even prints the fliers herself.

At candidate forums, Hawkins talks about her unique life experiences as a single mother who raised six boys and worked two jobs to put herself through law school at the age of 42.

Scott also takes exception to this tactic, noting his three children and three stepchildren and saying, "I don't think Sandy has the market on raising children."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 352 860-7312.

 

THE CANDIDATES

Sandy K. Hawkins

Hawkins, 51, was born in Palm Beach County and now lives in Belleview. A single mother, she worked various jobs while attending school. She graduated from the police academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Florida and a law degree from Stetson University at age 42. For the last nine years she's served as an assistant state attorney in the 5th Judicial Circuit. She's been married twice and has six older children. This is her first attempt at an elected office.

Edward L. Scott

Scott, 55, was born in Canton, Ga. He attended high school in Ocala, where he still lives. He served as a law enforcement officer for 14 years, in Ocala and then with the Marion County Sheriff's Office. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Central Florida, a master's from Rollins College and a law degree from Samford University in Alabama. For 19 years he's been in private practice. Scott is twice divorced, currently married, and has three grown children. This is his first run for office.