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Updated: 08/27/2014 08:00:01AM

Helms wins Group 16 judicial seat

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Larry Helms speaks at Tuesday's political forum at the Neil Combee Administration Complex.


Circuit Judge candidate Taylor Davidson speaks at Tuesday's political forum the League of Women Voters sponsored.

Larry Helms speaks at Tuesday's political forum at the Neil Combee Administration Complex.


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In the end it came down to who voters felt most comfortable with in the race for the opening on the bench of 10th Circuit Group 16, and certain credentials that had been ballyhooed may not have been enough to propel Taylor Davidson to the top.

As of 9 p.m., with the majority of precincts reporting in Polk, Hardee and Highland counties, Larry Helms led by a wide margin, 57.69 percent vs. 42.31 percent (35,227 to 25,835 votes).

By county

In Polk County, the Group 16 Circuit Judge race tilted toward Larry Helms. With 165 of 167 precincts reporting by 9:15 p.m., he led his opponent, Taylor Davidson, 28,881 to 22,660, or 55.86 percent vs. 44.14 percent.

The first numbers out of Highland County were also favorable for Helms, as were those in Hardee County. In Highland, Helms led by a wide margin. Helms had 65.44 percent of the votes (5,433) to Davidson’s 34.56 percent (2,869).

The numbers were also wide, though not as much, in Hardee County. The first numbers to come out of Hardee County showed Helms with 25,556 votes to Davidson’s 34,722 vote (57.6 percent vs. 42.4 percent).

Judging by the vote tallies, it appears that voters were not concerned that Helms would only be serving one term before he would face mandatory age retirement, which was a point emphasized by Davidson throughout much of his campaign.

Nor did it seem to be of relevance that Davidson’s holding two board certifications figured into his run come election day.

About Taylor Davidson

This was Davidson’s first attempt at elected office of any kind and followed 27 years in practice. The decision to run he said during an editorial review board of The Polk County Democrat and its sister newspapers (Lake Wales News, Frostproof News and Fort Meade Leader) was something he had contemplated for several years, but which he held off from doing until his children were older; his two children are now in college.

Davidson, 53, began his career in 1986, having earned his law degree from the law school of Tulane University; he earned his undergraduate degree in 1983 from Florida State University. His board certifications are in both Worker’s Compensation and Civil Trial Law. Of all the attorneys licensed to practice in Florida — there are 98,346 members and 70,187 eligible attorneys — only 5 percent are board certified, for a total of 4,585. More rare, he is one of only an estimated 252 lawyers in Florida who holds dual certification.

He also served on the 10th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, which makes recommendations to the Governor regarding judicial appointments. In addition, Davidson has been active in local, state and specialty bar associations. In an interesting note, that commission recommended Larry Helms as one of six judges to replace the late Karla F. Wright; at the time, Wright had announced she would be stepping down, but she died unexpectedly before her time on the bench expired.

About Larry Helms

This was Larry Helms’ second effort to gain a judgeship on the 10th Circuit Court, this time for Group 16. His prior attempt was in 2012, when he placed third, following William Sites (the ultimate top vote-getter) and Christine Trakas Thornhill; he garnered 23.8 percent of the vote.

As previously stated, Helms was one of six nominee to succeed Judge Karla F. Wright, recommended by the 10th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, of which his opponent, Taylor Davidson sat on.

Helms received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida and received his J.D. from that same school in 1974.

Helms, 66, has practiced law more than 39 years. His practice has included Circuit Criminal, Circuit Civil, Family, Juvenile and Probate. He has been in the courtrooms in 16 of the state’s 20 counties and has tried cases at both the state and federal level as well. He also has done appeal work in the First and Second Court of Appeals, as well as the Florida Supreme Court.

In addition, he is Supreme Court Certified as a Circuit Court Mediator and Circuit Court Arbitrator.

About the term

Circuit judges serve six-year terms and preside over cases within the 10th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties. They receive an annual salary of about $146,000.

The circuit judge position became open with the impending retirement of Circuit Judge J. Michael McCarthy.

(The Polk County Democrat was not able to reach either candidate for comment).

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