State attorney, public defender won’t face election opposition
Judicial races rarely get a lot of attention, in part because candidates for judge are extremely limited on how far they can go discussing issues they may face in court.
But judges still must stand for election, and with the close of qualifying for those and a few other seats Friday, the ballot line-up is clear.
No surprise in state’s attorney Steve Russell and public defender Kathy Smith re-election without opposition. Incumbents rarely have challengers in the 20th judicial circuit, which includes Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties.
Russell followed Joe D’Alessandro to the post, winning election first in 2002; D’Alessandro was appointed to the seat when the new circuit was formed in 1969– making it Florida’s newest circuit, and also the largest geographically—and never faced serious opposition. There have been more public defenders, mostly due to retirement and career changes; Smith was first elected to the post in 2008.
While circuit judge races in other parts of Florida have become spirited contests, they’ve also been traditionally lower-profile in Southwest Florida, with few attorneys willing to challenge a sitting judge whose performance has stayed unscathed.
Still, one attorney, Steven Leskovich, filed to run against incumbent Judge Amy Hawthorne. Hawthorne was chosen by Gov. Rick Scott from a pool of applicants to fill a vacancy a couple of years ago, and faces her first election. Leskovich said there was “no particular reason” that led him to file to run against her, but he also mentioned that she was first chosen through the appointment process.
Leskovich’s filing papers list a couple of home addresses in and outside the circuit, but he said he now lives in Punta Gorda and also owns a home in Sarasota County. He also filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009 and business bankruptcy about a year ago, but said those issues have been resolved.
The bankruptcies were the effect of a former partner who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the business, and caused additional problems through identity theft, Leskovich said. Filing for bankruptcy seemed the best way to keep the practice going and pay employees, he said, and now he has first-hand experience in dealing with those kinds of problems.
One other judge race will be on the ballot: attorneys Robert Branning and Mary Evans, both from Fort Myers, are vying to fill a vacancy created by Judge Edward Volz’s departure.
Branning’s name is already familiar to many voters partly because he ran unsuccessfully for judge a few years ago. Evans has already raised eyebrows by having campaign signs out in Fort Myers, although city codes prohibit the signs more than 60 days before the election.
Signs in road rights-of-way—which is generally between the road and sidewalk—are prohibited at any time.
Fort Myers code officials say they’re busy with such complaints, including retrieval of signs from the special congressional primary that are still up despite the requirement that they be removed within five days of the election.