Report may spur rivals of Alvarez
By SUE CARLTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 6, 2001
TAMPA -- A day after a published grand jury report raised concerns about the chief judge's handling of recent courthouse troubles, speculation swirled about Circuit Judge F. Dennis Alvarez.
Alvarez, administrative head to the circuit and county judges since 1988, would not say Friday whether he will seek re-election as chief in February or go back to being a regular circuit judge. He would not speak to rumors that he might resign altogether to position himself to run for mayor.
"I've got no comment on the situation," he said.
Alvarez recently testified before a grand jury looking into at least two embarrassing scenarios involving other circuit judges, including allegations of courthouse affairs and one judge sneaking into another's office.
In their report, the grand jury said they "might wish that the chief judge had taken a more active role in preventing the embarrassment our justice system has suffered." They made no specific findings against Alvarez but urged local judges who elect the chief every two years to review the matter.
But many of Alvarez's colleagues said they fully expect him to remain at the helm.
Circuit Judge Ralph Stoddard, who called the findings regarding Alvarez "fairly benign," said he had lunch with nine other judges Friday. "The consensus seemed to be confidence in Judge Alvarez," he said.
"We're not oblivious to the criticism he's gotten about how he's handled some of the scandal, and he's probably learned from that criticism," said Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett. "But as far as being chief judge, he's done a fine job."
But some say this year could be different. Circuit Judge Debra Behnke, often at odds with Alvarez, would not say whether she planned to run against him.
"I will tell you I'm almost certain he will not be unopposed," she said. "Stay tuned."
Circuit Judge Greg Holder said he once opposed term limits for the position but has done an about-face.
"While the chief judge has done much for this county and the judiciary, it is time for a change in leadership in that position," he said. Holder, however, said he will not run.
Alvarez issued a statement Thursday saying the grand jury had not been properly advised of a chief judge's limited authority. He attached correspondence including a request for a "mandatory retreat" between chief judges and members of the committee that polices judges to discuss guidelines on how to handle certain situations.
That request came months after questions were raised about how Alvarez handled allegations that a judge was making improper advances to women in the courthouse.
Chief judges are administrators who cannot hire judges nor affect their pay. Their power comes from their control over which division a judge is assigned.
Alvarez had opposition for the job only twice. Term limits were considered twice, dying one time for lack of a second and defeated in 1999 by a vote of 34-10.
The election is held by secret ballot. Last time, a judge brought a fake space alien in a jar as Alvarez's only opposition.
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