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13th Judicial Circuit, Group 25

Both candidates cite their experience - one as a big-name prosecuting attorney, the other as a longtime defense attorney.

By SUE CARLTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


The once-crowded contest to replace a retiring circuit judge is now down to two: a longtime lawyer and a former high-profile prosecutor.

In the November runoff election, Robert Foster Jr., 53, faces Leland Baldwin, 37. Baldwin won about 31 percent of the vote in the September primary while Foster finished second with 28 percent, besting their fellow candidates David Dee and Ellen Ware.

Baldwin, pictured around town on bright billboards and even in a life-sized head shot propped in the window of her car, is used to the limelight.

After a stint in a private law firm, she became an assistant state attorney and successfully prosecuted the nationally publicized case of three people accused of deliberately taking down a stop sign and causing the deaths of three young motorists. She also weathered controversy when a witness in that case said she threatened him into testifying.

The daughter of well-known constitutional law professor Fletcher Baldwin, she says her varied legal background gives her the experience to wear the robe.

"I bring a good combination of civil and criminal experience," she said.

Foster also is a familiar face at Hillsborough courthouses, having handled divorce and criminal cases for more than two decades. Foster often represents police officers in court.

The Tampa-born son of an old South Tampa family, Foster says he is relying on his experience to convince voters he is the right choice.

"I've got 25 years of representing thousands of people," he said.

Foster is a member of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, an exclusive all-male social club that runs Tampa's biggest party, Gasparilla. Though the Krewe has been controversial, Foster points out there are now some black members. He said he would "probably" resign if he became a judge.

If elected, Foster would be half of Hillsborough's only husband-and-wife judicial team. He is married to Circuit Judge Florence Foster.

THE JOB

Circuit judges, elected on a non-partisan basis to six-year terms, preside over criminal and civil cases. They handle felonies, such as murder and robbery, as well as divorces, juvenile cases, probate and guardianship, and lawsuits alleging damages in excess of $15,000. The job pays $130,000 a year.

CANDIDATES

LELAND BALDWIN, 37, was a Hillsborough assistant state attorney before she resigned to run for judge. Born in Gainesville, she went to Sophie Newcomb Memorial College of Tulane University and received a law degree from the University of Florida. She worked at Shackleford, Farrior, Stallings & Evans before becoming a prosecutor in 1991. Baldwin has been active in the Junior League and Lawyers for Literacy. She also coaches T-ball and youth soccer. She is married and has two sons. ASSETS: house, savings, stocks. LIABILITIES: loans, mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: savings, law practice.

ROBERT A. FOSTER JR., 53, has been a Tampa lawyer for 25 years. A Tampa native, he graduated from Plant High School, the University of South Florida and South Texas College of Law. He was an assistant public defender for 10 months before going into private practice. His downtown Tampa law practice includes family law and criminal cases. Foster is a member of the Florida Conservation Association as well as the Tampa Yacht & Country Club and Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. In his spare time, he fishes and coaches Little League. Foster is married and has a daughter and a son. ASSETS: home, property, boats. LIABILITIES: loans, mortgages. SOURCE OF INCOME: law practice.

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