Seminole County judicial race draws incumbent, two challengers

In this year's one contested race for Seminole County judge, voters must decide between incumbent Jerri Collins and two candidates who have filed for bankruptcy, Alex Finch and Sandra I. Rivera.

Collins, 52, has been on the bench eight years, appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush then elected without opposition two years later.

"I know this job," she said. "I'm more qualified. I'm the better candidate."

Rivera, 37, a former sex crimes prosecutor in Orlando, was the first challenger to jump into the race.

She has been a lawyer for 12 years, is a single mother who runs her own law firm in Altamonte Springs, specializing in landlord-tenant disputes and other civil matters. The firm has no other lawyers, no clerical staffers.

For a time, she and her now-ex-husband, Elizardi Castro, practiced criminal law together in Orlando, but he decided to become an actor, moved to Chicago, and their marriage broke up, she said.

That's what led to the couple's bankruptcy. In their 2008 Chapter 7 case, they listed $270,000 more in debts than assets.

"I did it because I was in a situation where I couldn't pay the bills. I had a son," Rivera said Friday. "I don't think it will reflect on my ability to preside over cases."

As a lawyer, she has been involved in 100 trials, many of them with the State Attorney's Office, and has experience with personal injury and other civil cases.

Finch, 51, of Longwood, filed for bankruptcy in 1999, about the time he and his first wife ended their 10-year marriage, according to court records.

He was corporate counsel at the time for a Winter Park start-up, Elite Digital Communications Inc., that had severe financial problems and went out of business soon afterward, he said.

"It wasn't anything I wanted in my life," he said of the bankruptcy. "Now, I'm 15 years down the road … and I've overcome it."

In 2006, he was sued over a $5,000 law school loan from 1992, a case he settled, according to court records.

Finch pointed out that as county judge, he won't be making any decisions about budgeting or public spending.

He says he's the best candidate for the job because of a wide breadth of legal experience that includes family, business, employment, personal injury and appellate legal work.

"I've been an attorney for 21 years," he said.

His resume lists 10 jobs since his admission to the Florida Bar. Three are as corporate counsel to small businesses.

Both he and Rivera say they'll bring a more humane, kinder style to the bench.

"I like people. I thought I could help people," Finch said. "I don't think expediency, docket control and efficiency are reasons to treat people like numbers."

rstutzman@tribune.com or 407-650-6394