TAMPA — Former Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody won't officially announce her candidacy for attorney general until today, but she already has the support of that office's current occupant.
Pam Bondi told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday that Moody is the candidate she will support in the 2018 race.
"I've known her most of her life," Bondi said. "I don't think there could be a more qualified candidate for attorney general in the entire state of Florida. I wholeheartedly support Ashley, and I'm proud of her for wanting to sacrifice so much for our state."
Moody, a Republican and daughter of a longtime federal judge, filed to run for the state's top law enforcement post Friday, weeks after she resigned from the bench.
"I'm not a politician," Moody, 42, said in an interview Monday. "My life's work has been dedicated to the rule of law."
She said she thinks her experience, which includes 10 years as a circuit judge in Hillsborough County, makes her uniquely qualified to be attorney general.
Moody was complimentary of the job Bondi has done, calling her "relentless" in combating crime. She wants to continue some of Bondi's initiatives, noting Bondi's efforts to address the opioid crisis and to combat dangerous drugs as one issue she would continue to pursue.
Moody said she also wants to improve the way the criminal justice system treats people with mental illnesses and to prosecute criminals who prey on the elderly.
"The intrigue of running for attorney general is that I could use my experience in a more proactive, statewide basis to improve our system of justice," she said. "Being a judge is very reactionary."
Her competition on the Republican side includes Jay Fant, a two-term state House member from Jacksonville. Fant has said his priorities will be defending citizens' constitutional rights and "fighting big government."
Democrat Ryan Torrens, a Tampa foreclosure defense lawyer, also filed to run last week. Torrens, 32, has said consumer protection should be one of the attorney general's main jobs, along with prosecuting crime.
Bondi's support gives Moody a clear advantage, said Darryl Paulson, emeritus professor of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
"The endorsement of Bondi may be the most important strength going into the election," Paulson said. "Having the strong backing of a popular incumbent officeholder is always a major plus for any candidate."
One challenge, though, will be the effect President Donald Trump might have on all Republicans running for office, Paulson said. At the same time, Democratic turnout in off-year elections tends to be lower than that of Republicans, which may counter any drag Trump has on other candidates.
Moody hails from a local judicial dynasty. Her late grandfather was a circuit judge and served in the state Legislature. Her father is a longtime federal judge. Her mother is an attorney who has counseled poor seniors. Her brother has been among the names considered for two open circuit court seats.
Beyond her prominent family connections, Moody has an impressive list of her own achievements.
She earned bachelor's, master's and law degrees from the University of Florida, making her a "triple Gator." She was president of Florida Blue Key, the prestigious UF honor and service society. She was a student-member of the state Board of Regents when it ran Florida's university system.
Before running for judge in 2006, she worked at Holland & Knight on commercial litigation and fighting crime at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Jacksonville.
She was first elected to the bench in 2006, at age 31. At the time, she was the youngest judge in Florida.
As a judge assigned to the court's juvenile division, Moody drew praise for her work outside the courtroom, helping establish a mentoring program for delinquent youth through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay.
In the court's criminal division, she handled several high-profile criminal cases, including that of Trevor Dooley, a Valrico man who unsuccessfully argued a "stand your ground" defense in the shooting death of his neighbor.
Speculation abounded about Moody's plans when she resigned in April.
Her father, U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr., said she had told the family a few months ago that she was considering running for attorney general.
"The closer she got to making the decision, the more it felt right," he said. "I call her the Energizer Bunny. If anybody can do it, she can."
Moody is married to Justin Duralia, a federal agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration. She has an 18-year-old stepson, Brandon, and a 7-year-old son, Connor.
Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.