Sara Mollo, the chief assistant public defender for the Sixth Judicial Circuit, plans to run for the office's top job in 2020.

She has filed candidacy paperwork with the Division of Elections to run for the upcoming vacancy from Public Defender Bob Dillinger. After 21 years leading the office that serves Pinellas and Pasco counties, Dillinger does not plan to run for another term. He is supporting Mollo's decision to run.

"This is my home," Mollo said Tuesday. "Mr. Dillinger has done a good job and has been a good leader in the community and I want to preserve and protect his legacy."

Although the election is a couple of years away, Mollo said she wanted to announce she's running so she can get to know the community since she has been "behind the scenes" during her career.

"It's such a large geographic area from Pasco to Pinellas. I would like for people to be comfortable with knowing who I am," Mollo said.

Dillinger hired Mollo in 2003. She was previously an assistant public defender in Monroe County and also worked as a prosecutor in Missouri.

Her experience on both sides of the criminal justice system, as prosecutor and public defender, make her "a unique candidate" for the job, she said.