Comparison of Group 18 Judicial Candidates Patricia “Trish” Muscarella and Kathryn Welsh
By Spartacus Thrace
The Sixth Judicial Circuit Group 18 (Pasco and Pinellas counties) runoff election to be determined on November 2, 2010 is a race between experienced attorneys Patricia “Trish” Muscarella and Kathryn Marie Welsh. Muscarella and Welsh were the top vote-getters in the August 24th primary election. In that race, fellow candidate Edward Liebling was the bottom vote-getter and so was disqualified. An analysis of the primary election results for all of the Sixth Circuit judicial candidates has appeared in an earlier post on this blog.
Patricia “Trish” Muscarella
Patricia “Trish” Muscarella, is one of two candidates running for Circuit Court Judge, Sixth Circuit, Group 19 (Pasco and Pinellas Counties). She was born and raised in Pinellas County. Muscarella has been actively involved in community service since she was a student at St. Cecilia Elementary School in Clearwater, where she was a VISTA volunteer in a summer reading program for underprivileged children. She is the daughter of Frank Muscarella, former United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. She is a 1970 graduate of Clearwater High School, a 1975 graduate of the University of Florida (B.A. in Special Education), and a 1984 graduate of Stetson College of Law. On June 7, 1985, she was admitted to the practice of law in Florida.
Muscarella’s only prior experience running for public office was in 1990, when she was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. During her term as State Representative, Muscarella was chosen to be the leader of the 1991 Republican freshman class and served on the Insurance, Natural Resources, Community Affairs, and Ethics and Elections Committees. In 1992, she ran for United States Congress as a moderate, but lost in the Republican primary to incumbent Mike Bilirakis. She thereafter left politics and concentrated on building up her law practice and related businesses.Muscarella presently is of counsel at the law firm of Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell & Dunbar, and is a member of the Clearwater Bar Association, the St. Petersburg Bar Association, and the West Pasco Bar Association. She is a registered Republican and in 2007 contributed $500 to the Fred Thompson for President campaign, and more recently contributed $500 to the state senate campaign of Jack Latvala. According to financial disclosure records, her net worth as of December 31, 2009 was $588,442.00, and her adjusted gross income for 2009 was just under $70,000.
Muscarella has a campaign website that includes a biography and a substantial list of endorsements. These include endorsements from Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger, the Pasco County Sheriff, the Pinellas County Sheriff, the Suncoast Police Bevenolent Association, and Fraternal Order of Police Lodges 10 and 43. She also has been endorsed by the Pasco Clerk of the Court Paula O’Neil, the Pinellas County Clerk of the Court Ken Burke, State Senator Dennis Jones, several city and town mayors, and scores of other prominent men and women in Pasco and Pinellas counties.
Muscarella has run a very active campaign that has employed a variety of campaign media and she recently released a new campaign video:
This is Muscarella’s first use of YouTube messaging using amateur video, and it is simple and straightforward. She looks directly into the camera while seated or standing in various locations within an old-style courtroom, telling the audience why she is well-qualified to be a judge. She is the only person speaking, and on-screen graphics are kept to a minimum. Sound distortion is at a minimum and the wide-screen high-definition format of the video adds a vivid quality to the presentation. While this amateur video lacks the high-gloss finish of a professional video, it is more than adequate to convey Muscarella’s message that she is a conservative and well-qualified to serve as a circuit court judge.
Although she has run a very professional campaign to date, Muscarella violated campaign law by publicly endorsing a candidate for another elected office: At a July 28, 2010 candidate forum sponsored by the Pinellas Patriots, which Muscarella was authorized by law to attend, a video posted to YouTube showed her complimenting her longtime friend Jack Latvala with the brief comment, “Actually Jack Latvala is considered one of the statesmen of the Florida Senate so I hope and encourage you to tell your friends to vote for him.” When it was brought to her attention that this was a violation, Muscarella admited her error, said it was a mistake, and apologized.
According to documents filed with the Florida Secretary of State for the period ending September 24, 2010, the Muscarella campaign has received 514 contributions comprising $79,235.00 in monetary contributions, two loans of $1,000 apiece from Muscarella to her campaign, and $6,645.90 in in-kind contributions, with total expenditures of $72,278.73. It is anticipated that Muscarella will spend the last three weeks of her campaign appealing to Independents and Republicans.
A fair criticism of Muscarella is that she has scant recent courtroom experience. That having been said, rules of procedure and evidence can be learned; temperament is something a person is born with. No one who knows both candidates would dispute the fact that Muscarella has the more even temperament and is the more thoughtful when addressing other people. One of the biggest problems facing our courts is that too many of our elected judges have separated themselves from the electorate and act as rulers and not as servants. If elected, Muscarella will be a decidedly moderating influence on the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court.
Kathryn Marie Welsh
Kathryn Marie Welsh is the second candidate running for Circuit Court Judge, Group 18. She has been a Florida resident since 1986. Welsh was born and raised in Massachusetts and received her high school degree in 1979 from The Bromfield School, located in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts. She is a 1983 graduate of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and is a 1987 graduate of Stetson College of Law. She has been married since 1986 to Robert L. Welsh, a teacher, and they have one son, John. Welsh lists her net worth on financial disclosure documents as $1,357,080.10, of which $931,400.00 comprises her home in Belleaire Beach, and she lists her annual income from all sources at just over $80,000. Welsh was admitted to the practice of law in Florida on May 13, 1988. She is a member of the Clearwater Bar Association and the St. Petersburg Bar Association, and in 2009 she became board certified by The Florida Bar in Marital and Family Law. She advertises that she has done volunteer work as a guardian ad litem and for Habitat for Humanity.
Welsh has a campaign website which features her biography/resume, and endorsements. It appears that she or someone associated with her campaign started a Facebook page for her campaign, but never finished it. It does not appear that Welsh has made any significant use of social networking or YouTube messaging, although reports indicate that she recently has done some videotaping of herself staged in a courtroom. Welsh does not list any prominent community leaders among those who endorse her candidacy, although she was was endorsed during the primary, and is being endorsed for the general election by the St. Petersburg Times.
According to financial disclosure reports filed with the Florida Secretary of State for the period ending September 24, 2010, the Welsh campaign has received only 80 contributions comprising $8,825.10 in monetary contributions, loans totalling $30,292.11 from Welch to her own campaign, and $2,353.03 in in-kind contributions, with total expenditures of $31,020.74, and $36.18 for other distributions. In setting up her run for circuit judge, Welsh opened her campaign account and made a loan of $10,000.00 to her campaign, before she filed her qualifying papers with the Secretary of State. The qualifying fee check sent to the Secretary of State was drawn from this loan. All of this puts Welsh squarely in violation of state campaign finance laws. In a letter to the Florida Division of Elections dated June 18, 2010, Welsh admitted that she violated the law and requested that the Division of Elections “waive any fine or penalty for this campaign account error.”
Welsh also distinguished herself on the campaign trail at a June 1, 2010 judicial candidates forum sponsored by the Conservative Institute for Public Awareness when, in response being asked to name her favorite sitting United States Supreme Court justice, Welsh effusively praised Elena Kagan, who at that time was only a nominee. A YouTube video of that remarkable moment has since become a video sensation among conservative groups in the community:
According to some who have seen and heard her, Welsh has further distinguished herself at other public forums since then by trying to change her answer, answering a question other than the one asked, or avoiding the question altogether — a remarkable and intolerable lack of candor with the voters befitting the haughty arrogance of a liberal elitist. Her statements about constitutional government and individual liberty from government tyranny have also left conservatives similarly unsatisfied. This might be one of the reasons why the Welsh campaign has the support of the leftists on the Times editorial board, it has not caught fire with the electorate.
The race between Muscarella and Welsh presents conservatives with a clear choice, much like similar races for other offices and in other jurisdictions. While Muscarella is not a “pure” or “perfect” conservative, she is immeasurably more ideologically acceptable than anyone to whom Elena Kagan is a hero. If Welsh is elected, it is possible to contemplate a set of ideological bookends that run from the Circuit Court all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The ideological differences between these two candidates and the potential consequences of either choice therefore mark this race as a very important one that conservatives in the Sixth Judicial Circuit cannot afford to overlook.