BROOKSVILLE — Hernando Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti will transfer to Marion County in the fall, leaving a vacant seat on the bench in Brooksville.
Tatti, 52, will move to the Marion post currently held by Circuit Judge Sandra Edwards-Stephens, who will retire Oct. 31.
Because none of the other 31 judges in the 5th Judicial Circuit requested by Monday's deadline to transfer to Hernando, the Judicial Nominating Commission will accept applications for the vacant post, said Lake County Circuit Judge Don Briggs, the circuit's chief judge.
Tatti's move is not a surprise. The father of four — including two school-age children — has been commuting to Brooksville from his home in Ocala since he was appointed in 2011 to the Group 26 seat left vacant when Judge Stephen Rushing retired. Elected without opposition in 2012 to a six-year term, Tatti had always planned to transfer closer to home, but didn't expect it to happen this soon.
"My wife's thrilled," he told the Times on Monday. "For me, it's a little bittersweet."
Tatti said he is excited about spending the two hours lost to commuting each day with family and on "novel things like exercise." But the longtime assistant state attorney, who spent much of his career in Brooksville, said he has enjoyed his time here as a prosecutor and a judge.
Since taking his seat on the bench, Tatti has handled civil trials, domestic violence injunctions, mortgage foreclosures and probate cases. He was assigned a felony criminal docket in January.
"If I'm any good at this point at what I do, I think this assignment has helped with that," he said.
Gov. Rick Scott has asked the nominating commission to send him a list of candidates by Oct. 1. Briggs said the goal is to have the new judge in place in Hernando on Nov. 1 or soon thereafter. Tatti will move one week prior to the appointed judge's arrival in Brooksville, Briggs said.
"We've hoping there's not a big gap in coverage" in Hernando, he said.
Judicial group seats move with the judges in them, so Tatti's next election for the Group 26 seat will remain in 2018. Edwards-Stephens's term in the Group 15 seat expires in 2015.
Attorney Robert Morris, who lives in Tampa and runs a civil and criminal defense practice in Brooksville, raised eyebrows earlier this summer when he filed to challenge Tatti five years ahead of the election.
Morris filed before the news broke that Tatti had put in for a transfer, and he denied he was seeking the seat to avoid appearing in front of Tatti, who has a reputation for being tough on criminal defendants. Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt, Jr., Hernando's administrative judge, signed an order recusing Tatti from all cases handled by Morris' firm.
Morris this week reiterated what he told the Times last month — that running for a judicial seat is part of a five-year plan, so he does not intend to apply for appointment to the Hernando post being left open by Tatti's transfer.
Reach Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.