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Inverness lawyer named circuit judge

Curtis Neal, 45, will focus on Hernando and Citrus counties.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2000


Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday appointed Inverness lawyer Curtis Neal to serve as a circuit judge.

Neal will work four days each week in Hernando County and one day in Citrus County.
Neal

But that's just his formal assignment. As a circuit judge, his jurisdiction is the entire 5th Judicial Circuit, which also includes Marion, Lake and Sumter counties.

Neal, 45, a former Florida Highway Patrol trooper, has been practicing law in Citrus for the past 17 years. He has special expertise in family law and has earned an excellent reputation in the local legal community. "Curtis' experience in the state circuit court and as a law enforcement officer give him a much-needed insight into the judicial process," Bush said in prepared remarks. "I am certain that he will be an excellent addition to the 5th Judicial Circuit."

In related news, Bush also appointed an Ocala lawyer, Brian Lambert, to fill another spot on the circuit bench.

Lambert will work full time in Ocala.

Neal serves as a family law mediator with Withlacoochee Area Legal Services and is a member of the Florida Bar Grievance Committee for the circuit. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

For Neal, the appointment marks the end of a difficult and hard fought effort to reach the bench.

Neal ran for county judge in 1990 but withdrew before Election Day; the incumbent, Gary Graham, went on to win the race.

In 1996, Neal ran for a circuit judge position. He lost to Barbara Gurrola.

In the criminal arena, circuit judges preside over felony cases -- everything from grand theft to murder cases in which the defendant could face the death penalty. In family law, circuit judges rule on divorce cases, child custody, dependency, guardianships and probate matters.

On the civil side of the docket, circuit judges typically handle cases -- contract disputes, mortgage foreclosures, product liability and personal injury, for example -- that involve more than $15,000 in damages.

Because of population growth, the state Legislature created two new spots on the 5th Judicial Circuit bench. The local Judicial Nominating Commission interviewed 29 lawyers who sought the job and selected six finalists, three for each job.

For the Hernando/Citrus job, the other finalists were Glen Abbott from Crystal River and Richard "Ric" Howard from Spring Hill.

For the Marion County position, the commission also recommended Michael Smith and Jean Bice, both Marion lawyers.

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