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Challenger to Judge Hurley Adjusting to Bruising Ways of Broward Politics

Melissa Minsk Donoho isn't much interested in political gossip. She's too busy with her criminal defense law practice in Fort Lauderdale and with raising three kids. But when Donoho filed for candidacy for Broward County Court Judge, Group 12, she entered one of the region's most gossip-friendly races. That's because her opponent is Judge Jay Hurley.

When I reached Donoho on Friday, she told me that she picked that race before she'd done much opposition research: "I just knew he was appointed by Gov. Crist," she says of Hurley, who was a fraternity brother of Crist's at Florida State. "He's only been on the bench for a year, and I just think the people should pick the judge."

Donaho says she knew nothing about Hurley's recent public embarrassments.

That is, allegations that Ponzi-scheming attorney Scott Rothstein played a role in helping Hurley land the appointment. Or that Hurley abused his power by summoning police to his wedding based on a single blog comment in which the address was listed. Or his very clumsy efforts at damage control.

Donoho says none of it had a role in convincing her that Hurley was vulnerable and worth challenging.

But she knows enough to recognize that she's a considerable underdog, if only because incumbents -- especially the ones who are friends of Crist's -- tend to enjoy fund-raising advantages. Asked how she would compete with that, Donoho said, "Just grassroots -- hit the campaign trail. It's going to be a matter of raising my own funds, with the help of my friends. I'm looking at this as an adventure."

Donoho has worked on both sides of criminal law. She was a prosecutor for the Broward State Attorney's Office from 1992-96. After a clerkship with a federal court judge, Donoho went into private practice as a criminal defense attorney in 2000. She likes how county court is, in effect, "the peoples' court, because so many of these defendants are pro se" -- that is, representing themselves. Minsk Donoho has never run for public office.

As for her first impressions of Broward politics? "I'm learning that it's nasty -- I don't like that very much."

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Thomas Francis

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