Hernando TodayFifth Circuit Court Judge
Published: August 22, 2008
Published: August 22, 2008
For the past seven and a half years, Circuit Judge Richard "Ric" A. Howard has handed down decisions from the bench in Inverness where he's presided over about 300 jury trials, including the highly publicized murder case of John Evander Couey during the winter of 2007 in Miami.
A jury found Couey guilty of the heinous kidnapping, rape and asphyxiation murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Homosassa.
Howard, 55, could try that case because he's one of the few death penalty certified judges in Florida. He also did an excellent job.
That's one reason why Hernando Today's editorial board is endorsing Howard for re-election in the Group 11 Fifth Circuit Court race against newcomer Rhonda Portwood.
His vast courtroom experience, including 10 years as a prosecutor in the state attorney's office and 12 years in private practice as a defense attorney, gives Howard the type of record with which few judge candidates can compete, especially in this nonpartisan race.
While Howard has been criticized in the past for what some, including his opponent, consider overly harsh sentences for youthful offenders, he says he has maintained the veracity of the law and followed sentencing guidelines to best protect the public. He cannot comment on specific cases, but says he is confident in his decisions.
Also, the enthusiasm that Howard displays when talking about his job shows how much passion he has for the law and his seat on the bench.
"I absolutely love my work," Howard told Hernando Today's editorial board, noting that he'd missed only four days of work because of sickness since first being appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to the post in January 2001.
Howard is also a founding member of the Hernando County Teen Court, which began in 1991, and served as a volunteer teen court judge through that decade. He was also part of a group effort to establish the Citrus County Mental Court, which began receiving cases in January. Another plus: It was established at no cost to the taxpayers.
Making sure the mentally ill get the necessary treatment they need and don't end up getting lost in our costly prison system should be a priority of all judges. This is definitely a move in the right direction, and the cost savings to taxpayers are equally appealing.
Howard has mentored a number of younger attorneys and says he will continue to work to get more attorneys death penalty certified in Florida.
Voters would do well to give Howard the vote of confidence of another four-year term on the bench. Hernando Today recommends voters should cast their ballots for him in the Tuesday, Aug. 26 primary.
Fifth Circuit Court Judge
Voters will have another tough choice in the Tuesday, Aug. 26, primary when they pick a nonpartisan judge in Group 3 of the Inverness-based Fifth Circuit Court, which encompasses Hernando, Citrus, Sumter, Marion and Lake counties.
All three candidates - Sandy Hawkins, Michael Lamberti and Denise Lyn - are extremely well-qualified and outstanding individuals to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Judge Barbara Gurrola. While each has followed somewhat different career paths, all three possess the experience, integrity and track record to decide cases in the best interest of the community.
However, one candidate stood out above the other two: 53-year-old Sandy Hawkins. In addition to her courtroom experience - 11 years as an assistant state attorney prosecuting criminal, civil, domestic violence and family law cases - Hawkins has a wealth of life experiences of which few candidates can boast. As a single mother of six boys, Hawkins decided later in life that she wanted a better, more secure future for her and her family. A graduate of the police academy, Hawkins decided to go back to school, earning a bachelor's degree at the University of Florida and then going on to earn her juris doctorate degree from Stetson College of Law. She did both while raising a family and working two jobs.
"My life experiences have given me the ability to look at both sides of an argument," Hawkins told Hernando Today's editorial board.
That and her experience in the courtroom are the main reasons why we are recommending Hawkins for the judge's post.
Hawkins, a member of the Florida Bar since 1997, is also a member of the Marion County Bar Association, the National District Attorney Association, Ocala Lion's Club, Justice Teaching Program and Golden Key National Honor Society. In 2006, she lost a bid for a newly created judgeship in Marion County to Edward Scott in a three-way race that included local attorney Peyton Hyslop.
Hernando County voters should not miss out on the opportunity to put Hawkins on the bench this second time around by voting for her on Tuesday, Aug. 26. The winner of the race must obtain 50 percent of the vote plus one or face a runoff in the Tuesday, Nov. 4, general election. With three such outstanding individuals on this ballot, this race may not be decided until November.