TAMPA — Lee Bentley has been on the job for 21 months as the region's top federal prosecutor and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December, but Thursday delivered the fanfare.
U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch attended Bentley's ceremonial investiture as U.S. attorney for Florida's Middle District. It was an occasion marked by moments solemn and jovial.
Lynch didn't speak publicly but sat beside Bentley and his family in a room packed with judges, lawyers, law enforcement agents, and local dignitaries.
U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday administered the oath of office while warning that a U.S. attorney's most difficult days require personal tranquility and moral fortitude.
Merryday, a legal scholar known for detailed explanations to jurors, led the audience back to the 1789 origins of the federal judiciary and said Bentley's office requires "faithful execution."
"Not clever," Merryday said. "Not dogged, not maximum, not bold and certainly not partisan execution of the office. But faithful execution."
Bentley expressed gratitude to President Barack Obama for the appointment and appreciation to those who served before him.
He praised the president's nomination of Lynch, currently U.S. attorney for New York's Eastern District, to replace Attorney General Eric Holder. Lynch awaits Senate confirmation.
When he thanked her for coming and said it meant a lot to him, the room broke into applause.
He also used the platform to tout the achievements of his staff, saying the public would be proud to see how hard they work.
"There are 94 U.S. attorney offices in the country and we are the absolute best," Bentley said. "My apologies to United States Attorney Lynch. I'm sure the Eastern District of New York is the second-best, and in a few weeks, I will have to concede that yours was the best."
Bentley's district stretches from Naples to the Georgia border and includes the Tampa Bay area.
After Merryday suggested that early federal prosecutors were paid on a contingency basis, Bentley said he could live well on a portion of the $367 million his office recovered last year.
The scores of people in attendance Thursday included former U.S. Attorneys Robert E. O'Neill, A. Brian Albritton, and Donna Bucella; Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Tampa police Chief Jane Castor; and Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, among others.
Leaders of law enforcement agencies sat in chairs traditionally reserved for jurors.
"Take a look at the jury box," Bentley said, quipping, "This is my dream jury."
Contact Patty Ryan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.
The photo caption on this story has been updated to correct Lee Bentley's title.