Incumbent Circuit Court Judge Jack Day being challenged by assistant state attorney Agnes McCabe in Pinellas election

05/22/12 Janelle Irwin
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In Pinellas County there are four contested judicial races in August’s election. But only one of those includes an incumbent. Jack Day currently is the judge for the 6th Circuit Court Group 45 seat and is being challenged by assistant state attorney Agnes McCabe. Both candidates have been practicing law for more than 20 years. They fielded questions at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting today highlighting their qualifications and – of course – asking for votes.

Day’s endorsements include the Fraternal Order of Police and more than 200 individual members of the Florida Bar Association. He’s been on the bench since 2006. The first two years, Day worked in the criminal division in Clearwater and New Port Richey.

“Since then I have been in what we call unified family court which I don’t have time to explain to you. It’s a unique niche court. It’s about kids and rehabilitation – rehabilitation of the kids of dysfunctional families. It’s not like anything else and I have developed a passion for children’s issue. I serve on the dependency court – I chair the dependency court improvement committee. I serve on the board of directors of the Florida Council of Family and Juvenile Court Judges.”

Agnes McCabe began her legal career in Colorado after receiving her law degree from the University of Denver in the mid-80s. There she handled personal injury and social security disability cases before moving to Georgia to practice trial law.

“It was swift justice and I don’t think Mr. Dillinger’s officer would have appreciated, you had Grand Jury one Monday, Arraignment the next Monday and trials the next Monday. But, no sentencing guidelines either so you could get from one to twenty years for a burglary. My cases that I tried there went from hunting deer at night with the use of vehicle headlights. That was my first trial ever. I was incredibly nervous and he was acquitted in 20 minutes in Meriwether County. I then proceeded to more serious cases such as murder, rape, armed robbery, child molestation cases and had about 70 trial cases in Georgia.”

McCabe is the only candidate who chose to challenge a judicial incumbent instead of pursuing an open seat. Florida Representative Rick Kriseman, who is also an attorney, said that is something she may have to answer for.

“If somebody is going to do that – and anytime you run against an incumbent, it’s always harder. There needs to be a specific reason why. I mean, to me you’ve got to give the voters a reason why the incumbent should no longer serve and you should take their place.”

Kriseman said her response didn’t really answer his question.

“I chose to run against a sitting judge because I feel as if my broad experience over the last 27 years qualify me to be a judge – not just because of my experience, but because of my temperament. As I said before, it’s very important in court to treat people with dignity and respect and that’s very important both as an attorney and as a judge. I’ve appeared before a lot of judges and I’ve seen how court calendars are run, I’ve been able to weigh the credibility of witnesses in the investigative room in the State Attorney’s Office and I like to think I’m well respected in the legal community for my ability to get along well with other people and that’s why I’ve chosen to run.”

Circuit Court seats don’t come with a guaranteed court assignment. But Judge Day has been firmly in place in the family division for nearly four years. His experience there has given him what he describes as a passion for children. He’s the chair of the Dependency Court Improvement Committee where he provides legal services to children in troubled households. Day is campaigning on many of the accomplishments he’s had in the family court system.

“Department of Children and Families, Secretary Wilkins gave me the excellence in child welfare services award for the circuit reference to my “keeping kids safe, stepping up to do what is right for children and families and as an advocate for child welfare”. I’m very proud of that.”

Both Day and McCabe fielded questions from members of the non-partisan political club. But because of rules regulating what judiciary candidates can and cannot discuss, many of the questions went largely unanswered. One pertained to the constitutionality of the new federal healthcare law that is being challenged in the Supreme Court. A Tiger Bay member wanted to know which provisions, if any, the candidates would strike. None were able to say specifically, but Day said the justices have a challenge ahead of them.

“Let me talk to you about the decision-making of the judge. It’s a little like manufacturing. You gather together all the raw materials. You gather together all of the available tools and you go to work. If you’re part of a group like the nine people on the Supreme Court, you end up going to work on a collegial basis with give and take and discussion. Those folks not only have their years of experience, their expertise, their educations, massive law libraries, staffs of law clerks, they have the benefit of briefs – which is kind of a misnomer because they’re going to stack up about this high – from the parties and argument of the cases. You work with all that stuff and then you try to get it right. And, God bless them, I hope they get it right.”

Political blogger and Tiger Bay regular Peter Schorsch tried to get around the rules by proposing a Jeopardy-style round where candidates offered questions they’d like to be able to answer. Agnes McCabe said – “Are you a Republican or a Democrat”.

“For whatever reason, even though we’re a trial judge, that seems to matter to some of the voters and I would like to be able to answer ‘where do you stand on the Stand Your Ground Law or the Affordable Care Act?’ I did want to share to, I was in Gulfport the other day and I was shaking hands and saying ‘hi, I’m Agnes McCabe, I’m running for judge’. And this woman said, ‘where do you stand on the death penalty?’ So I did say, ‘well, this is going to sound like mumbo jumbo’ – and she at least stayed with me. But then she asked if I was Republican or Democrat and I said ‘I can’t answer that either’. So she said, ‘well look’ – she was selling earrings and she had donkey earrings and elephant earrings. She said, ‘which one of those would you buy?’”

Six Candidates from three other races also attended the luncheon this afternoon. We’ll bring you information on those races and candidates over the coming weeks. The election for both circuit and county judges is on August 14th. Circuit court seats also cover Pasco.

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