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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 7 years ago

COUNTY JUDGE: Judges race to fulfill a dream

by: Robin Roy City Editor

When the final votes are counted on Election Day, one judicial candidate’s dream will come true. Both attorneys vying for County Judge, Group Three, say have long dreamed of sitting on the bench.

“It’s something I have worked toward since high school, when I was on the mock-trial team,” said Maryann Boehm.

Her opponent, Tracy Lee, developed the bug when he clerked for a judge during law school.

“I thought it was the most important job,” he said, “the impact (the judge) had.”

Boehm, 43, has taken a leave of absence from the Bradenton firm of Porges, Hamlin, Knowles and Prouty, while she runs her campaign. Her current practice areas include landlord-tenant disputes, community-association law, and planning and land use.

Because the county judge seat rotates between civil and criminal dockets, Boehm believes the hundreds of civil cases she has tried prepare her well for the judgeship. She also has experience as a prosecutor in criminal cases and was an assistant state attorney in the 12th Judicial Circuit.

“The intellectual challenge of changing (between civil and criminal) makes the job exciting,” she said. “I have built a good base to handle the county docket.”

Lee, 42, said he has more criminal trial experience than his opponent and says that is what separates him from his opponent.

“I’m the only candidate with felony experience,” he said. “I’ve handled more complex cases — murder, manslaughter, arson and child abuse.”

Lee currently leads the criminal and traffic division for Sarasota’s Jodat Law Group and has tried about 1,000 non-jury trials, as well as several dozen jury trials.

Both candidates want to address issues surrounding an overburdened judicial system if they are elected.

Boehm sees the effects the economy has had on people taking civil claims to court.

“The biggest problem I see is the number of litigants who have no legal representation,” she said. “People can’t afford attorneys for small claims, and that demands a lot of time from a judge.”

No matter the outcome, Boehm said, people can leave her courtroom feeling like they were treated fairly.

“Character and integrity are the two most important characteristics to have as a judge,” she said. “You have to make tough decisions on a day-to-day basis.”

An overcrowded docket and overcrowded jail are the biggest problems Lee sees with the 12th Judicial Circuit.

“Having more experienced judges is the best way to quickly clear the docket,” he said.

To reduce the number of inmates in the Sarasota County Jail, Lee advocates building a second jail; greater use of diversionary programs, such as drug court and DUI court, as alternatives to jail time; and the use of private-sector jails for non-violent offenders.

“Instead of doing 30 days straight, which could result in someone losing their job, they would be allowed to go to work in the day and check into a private-sector jail each night,” said Lee. “They’d then serve 60 days instead of 30.”

Lee has an extra hurdle to clear in his fight for the county judge seat, and that is public perception.

He was arrested last November after his wife accused him of pushing her down during an argument.

Lee admits to the argument, but denies he pushed his wife to the ground. She did not press charges.

“I feel horrible about it,” he said. “I would never harm my wife.”

Immediately after the incident he quit the race, but re-entered in the spring.

“I got out of the race, because my family needed all of my attention,” he said. “But we’ve put it behind us, and with the two leading candidates with trial experience dropping out, I saw an opportunity to get back in the race.”

Maryann Boehm
Age: 43
Hometown: Born in Flint, Mich.; raised in Sarasota
Family: Married with two daughters
Education: B.A. from University of Florida, law degree from South Texas College of Law
Career highlights: Assistant state attorney for 12th Judicial District, associate at Porges, Hamlin, Knowles and Prouty, director of Manatee County Bar Association

Tracy Lee
Age: 42
Hometown: Sarasota
Family: Married with one daughter
Education: B.S. from University of Florida, law degree from Widener University School of Law
Career highlights: Senior assistant attorney general under Charlie Crist and Bill McCollum, head of Jodat Law Group’s criminal and family division, only attorney in the 12th Judicial Circuit certified by the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification

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