Few people in Hernando County may realize it, but they elect the attorney responsible for defending poor people accused of crime. One reason they may not know they hold such power is that the current public defender, Howard "Skip'' Babb Jr., has held the post for 32 years and hasn't faced an electoral challenge since 1984.
Babb, however, is stepping down and two private defense attorneys are seeking the role of 5th Judicial Circuit Public Defender, covering Hernando and four other counties. They are Mike Graves of Lake County, who turns 55 on the eve of the election, and Bo Samargya, 45, who lives in Brooksville, but bases his practice in Inverness. Because these two Republicans are the only candidates seeking the job, this primary will be open to all voters in Hernando.
Both Graves and Samargya offer similar platforms of improving efficiencies and starting mentor programs to enhance the professional development of the young assistant public defenders in the circuit.
Graves was Babb's chief assistant for five years ending in 1990. In that role, he managed all five county offices for the public defender and developed vital administrative experience supervising other attorneys and implementing budgets. He has been president and managing partner of Graves & Spivey in Tavares for the past 13 years.
Graves' career, however, has been marred by instances of poor judgment that compromise his credibility. In 2005, he served a 30-day suspension issued by the Florida Bar for failing to respond to the Bar's inquiry into client grievances. Graves calls it a personal embarrassment, says he earned the punishment and attended counseling to try to figure out his own defiant behavior.
Unfortunately, it wasn't an isolated instance. Public records in that case show Graves also received admonishment for minor misconduct and a year's probation in the mid 1990s under a similar circumstance — neglecting client matters and failing to respond to the Bar's inquiry into his conduct. Though Graves offers strong administrative credentials and a greater vision for the public defender's role in the community, the pattern of ignoring the authority of the Florida Bar is not a suitable characteristic for a public servant responsible for defending the needy.
Samargya has administrative experience managing the family medical supply business and the courtroom pedigree (a former prosecutor and public defender) necessary to handle the responsibilities of this job. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Bo Samargya for 5th Judicial Circuit Public Defender in the Aug. 14 election.
The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates should send their responses no later than 5 p.m. Friday to C.T. Bowen, Pasco/Hernando editor of editorials, Tampa Bay Times, 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668; by fax to (727) 869-6233 or by email to email@example.com. Replies are limited to 150 words.