Judicial Candidates Can't Verify Histories Gooding, Wilensky Unable to Confirm Number of Cases

Article excerpt

Byline: Rich Tucker, Times-Union staff writer

In a race for circuit judge in which both candidates are using trial experience as a key selling point, neither can prove he has tried the number of cases on which he has been campaigning.

David M. Gooding told voters he has tried between 120 and 140 cases. He said in speeches and pamphlets that he tried about 70 of those while at the State Attorney's Office from 1988 to 1989. But records from the State Attorney's Office show Gooding tried only 55 cases there, and Gooding could name only 21 other cases he has tried since leaving that office.

Opponent Dan Wilensky said he has tried up to 200 cases but was able to name only 23 cases he has tried during his 25 years as a lawyer.

Gooding and Wilensky are the sole candidates in an open judgeship in the 4th Judicial Circuit, which covers Duval, Clay and Nassau counties. The primary is Sept. 10.

The Times-Union attempted to get complete lists of all cases Gooding and Wilensky have tried as attorneys in Duval County, but the Clerk's Office said its electronic records were not stored in a way that would have allowed such a search. The Times-Union then gave the candidates more than two weeks to provide lists of cases they tried, but neither was able to produce a complete list.

Both Gooding and Wilensky said many of their older files have been destroyed, in accordance with their office policies, and that the more than two weeks was not enough time to produce more complete trial lists.

Wilensky offered a handwritten list of 23 cases that he said "ended up having some or all issues decided by a judge." The list included custody trials, marriage dissolutions and a contempt case.

"Four judicial nominating committees have met with me, checked me out in the community, and believed me," Wilensky said. "The focus should be on the integrity and the honesty, all that goes into being a judge, not just how many trials I can prove. I just think that's a real misleading thing to say that I can't prove how many trials I've had."

Gooding provided a list of 21 cases, but he said several of those may have not have gone to trial. Several case names had notations from Gooding, such as "I think this settled, but am not sure," and "Settled at mediation, I think."

"I'm not trying to hide the ball on you," Gooding said. "It's very hard to produce this kind of list. I'd have to stop campaigning and work on nothing else."

Other Jacksonville lawyers contacted by the Times-Union said they could have assembled trial lists in two weeks.

"I don't think that's an unreasonable request," said Steve Pajcic, a prominent Jacksonville personal injury attorney.

Attorney Hank Coxe said judicial candidates should be able to back up the statements they make during campaigning.

"In my opinion, attorneys who make claims as to their qualifications better be able to stand by those claims," said Coxe, who represents The Florida Bar in Jacksonville's circuit.

As judicial candidates, Gooding and Wilensky are prohibited from making campaign pledges or affiliating with a political party. …