Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Carlton: A state attorney's surprise exit

This was Election Day's biggest shocker. Okay, locally, anyway.

Hillsborough's affable and well-liked state attorney — endorsed even by the public defender his lawyers squared off against daily — faced a challenge by a politically unknown former federal prosecutor. Not likely, right?

And then incumbent Mark Ober walked away with 49.5 percent of the vote, with newbie Andrew Warren getting 50.4 percent.

Fair to say it was a rough campaign.

Bold ads distorted some of the facts in two rape cases handled by Ober's office. A last-minute blitz included a giant PAC-funded billboard trucked through neighborhoods tying Ober to Tampa's bicycling-while-black ticketing controversy.

Except those tickets — issued disproportionately to black residents — were actually civil citations handed out by the Tampa Police. Ober's office got involved only if there was a criminal charge.

And so it will be a different courthouse.

Ober, 65, sounds surprisingly Zen about this sudden turn in his legal career — prosecutor, then defense lawyer, then state attorney for 16 years. As in the campaign, he does not bad-mouth his opponent. He's given Warren an office to help with the transition.

"I'm at peace with myself," Ober says.

Like every state attorney who has come through — and we have had some interesting ones — Ober is a distinct part of the place. His years as a defense attorney gave him more ways of looking at a case, local lawyers will tell you. He will talk your ear off about nuances in the law he clearly finds fascinating.

He is a bear of a man who likes to fish and regularly took his own recipe mullet spread to legislators in Tallahassee. After his annual small-townish inspection of the games at the Florida State Fair — a statutorily-obligated duty Warren now inherits — Ober would bring platoons of corn dogs, candy apples and Amish doughnuts back for his staff. It's probably not the reason they are fiercely loyal, but it doesn't hurt.

When I ask what he thinks he leaves behind, he says a safer place, and "prosecutors that were honest, ethical and fair — the best trial lawyers in the nation." In fact, he sounds more concerned about their futures than his own.

Which will be? I guessed teaching, which he likes. He's not saying — only that he wants to catch his breath and that he's lucky to have options.

Though he meant to win this race, he said he has slept soundly probably for the first time in 16 years.

Here is classic Ober: Thursdays at 3 p.m. he held meetings of the Homicide Committee, composed of his top prosecutors, because the decisions were too important for a single person.

Behind closed doors, they debated whether a death was manslaughter, first-degree murder or something in between; whether a defendant deserved to die for his crime; whether Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law exonerated someone who pulled the trigger. Ober poked people with rhetorical questions. Shouting was not unheard of.

I wondered if Ober — the boss, after all — ever walked in convinced about a case only to walk out with a different decision.

"Absolutely," he says, and that, people will tell you, is how he ran the office, open to debate and loving the law.

Carlton: A state attorney's surprise exit 11/24/16 [Last modified: Thursday, November 24, 2016 6:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Before Janessa Shannon's death, parents traded accusations of abuse


    TAMPA — Long before Janessa Shannon's remains were discovered in a Hillsborough County nature preserve, her parents tried to convince court officials that she was in danger.

    From her own family.

    Janessa Shannon, 13, was found dead July 12 in the Triple Creek Nature Preserve in Hillsborough County. [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children]
  2. Ronde Barber: Want intimidation? Look at past Bucs teams


    Ronde Barber says these days "it's hard to find throwbacks, where you go, 'That guy is a badass.' Where do you find that now? It's such a show-off sport." (Times 2012)
  3. ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of July 16, 2017


    Seems like Broward County has started a domino effect. It was the first school board to commit to filing a lawsuit against the state and its controversial education bill, House Bill 7069. Then, the St. Lucie County School Board signed on, too. A running tally of school boards that have reportedly expressed interested in …

    Kali Davis (left), training director for Springboard to Success, helps to coach Justin Black (center), who will be starting his third year of teaching PE at Melrose Elementary, as he works to instruct students in a math lesson during the Spring Board program of Summer Bridge at Woodlawn Elementary School in St. Petersburg.
  4. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.