Candidates for 6th Judicial Circuit Court Present Qualifications at Forum
By Bill Lopez
Clearwater -- Six candidates are vying for two positions as judge in the 6th Circuit Court elections for Group 6 and Group 8 on August 26th.
The Clearwater Bar Association and Pinellas County League of Women Voters sponsored a luncheon at the Harborview Center last Thursday in Clearwater where each of the candidates presented a brief profile of their experience and qualifications.
Violet Assaid, Group 6
Assaid served as Senior Assistant Public Defender, a position that led to supervisory and leadership roles in that office. She ran a felony division in 1998 and 1999 and was promoted to her present position in 1999.
She is a Board Certified Trial lawyer with 20 years experience in supervising and teaching lawyers throughout the state. While working for the
Public Defender's office, she represented clients in every area of criminal law from misdemeanor, juvenile, felony, habitual felony to capital case defendants. She has worked on over 50 jury trials and is a lifetime resident of Pinellas country.
She pledges to make the judicial system as good as it can be and promises to bring professionalism to the job.
Mary Handsel, Group 6
Handsel was named 2001 Prosecutor of the Year as Member of the DUI Homicide Squad. She has worked as Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice with St. Petersburg College.
She feels that it is essential to keep up the high standards of the judicial system that have been established and pledges to uphold those standards.
Current problems are budget constraints but Handsel said she would not comment on budget solutions until she has the opportunity to review the impact of these constraints as circuit judge. She is a member of the Clearwater bar and has lived in the area since age 14.
Her life-long ambition has been to practice law and now she wants to give back to the community.
Bruce Howie, Group 6
Howie has been a resident of Tampa Bay area for 45 years and has been practicing law for 30 years. He asserts that he is the best qualified for the job based on his experience that includes commercial person injury, contracts, worker's comp and other areas of the law.
He has argued in the Supreme Court and has rendered 44 legal opinions that are available for public review.
He sees some systemic problems with constrained budgets that currently hamper the effectiveness of the 6th Circuit and would seek to make the system more efficient while still observing the rights of the litigants.
He would seek to move the cases through the system faster without short cutting the procedures and due process.
Kenneth Foote, Group 8
From New York City, Foote ran his own business for 15 years before going into law with the State's Attorney's office in Clearwater. He worked as prosecutor in the domestic violence division and was promoted to lead trail attorney and then assigned to the felony division. Foote presently works in private practice on civil defense litigation.
He feels his trial experience of being on both sides will help him be effective as circuit judge.
With respect to the overloaded docket, he feels it is important to keep the cases moving while giving all participants due process before the law. He would hold the attorneys accountable and be sure they are prepared for cases and avoid excessive requests for continuances that plague the system today.
Susan A. Gardner, Group 8
Gardner has worked with family law, probate and many areas of the law with the Public Defender's Office. Previously she worked in civil practice in litigation, civil contracts and family law and had her own practice.
She was voted 2007 Attorney of the Year at the Pasco Public Defender's Office.
Gardner is aware of the overburdened docket that presently burdens the court system and sees the impact of budget constraints as a major problem resulting in staff cuts that have put heavy burdens on the efficiency of the system.
She said there is a fine balance between the rights of the litigants and the limited resources we have to move the cases along and she would be careful to observe and maintain that balance.
Robert A. Williams, Group 8
Currently in private practice for the past nine years, Williams focuses on environment, government and land-use law.
He feels everyone who has the opportunity to serve his community should do so and that is why he is running for judge. He is a graduate of Leadership Tampa Bay and a member of the Pasco Economic Development Council.
Before going into private practice, he was with the State's Attorneys Office in Clearwater as prosecutor. As such he made many decisions to file or not file based on the merits of the cases that came across his desk.
He indicated this experience is invaluable and will help him be effective as circuit court judge.
He is a member of the West Pasco, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
Contact Bill Lopez at email@example.com.
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