No qualities are more important in a state attorney than having the experience and judgment to exercise prosecutorial discretion in a fair and honest way. Mark Ober has shown throughout his 16 years as Hillsborough state attorney that he responsibly handles the awesome authority of the office. He deserves another term.
Ober, 65, was well prepared to take over as Hillsborough's chief legal officer when he first ran for state attorney in 2000. Raised in Brandon, he earned a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Florida and a law degree from the South Texas College of Law. Ober was an assistant state attorney from 1977 to 1987 before going into private practice. He spent more than a decade as a criminal defense attorney before being elected state attorney in 2000. His experience as both a prosecutor and defense counsel gives him a rounded perspective of the law — and an appreciation of the due diligence, fairness and transparency required of officials acting on the public's behalf.
Ober's vast trial experience makes him an effective leader and a model for younger lawyers entering the field. He is widely admired for his ethics. Defense lawyers praise the office as being professional and reasonable. A Republican, Ober moved quickly after first winning election to remove politics from the office, which was rampant at the time. He has also been a leader among prosecutors in dealing with the governor's office and the Legislature.
Andrew Warren, 39, a former federal prosecutor who graduated from Brandeis University and Columbia University Law School, is a credible candidate with a progressive approach. The Democrat wants to change the culture of the criminal justice system by putting a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and offender reform. He is right that the county should expand the use of civil citations for low-level criminal behavior. His vow to examine the impact of "overpolicing" could shed valuable light on local law enforcement, especially in Tampa, where police ended an aggressive practice of primarily stopping black bicyclists after a Tampa Bay Times investigation. Warren is sharp and energetic. While some of his criticisms of Ober have been off the mark, he has brought attention to serious issues.
Ober, though, has a long track record that reflects a strong understanding of the qualities that should guide prosecutors and the state attorney's office. He should be a stronger advocate for diversion programs, especially for youthful offenders. But Ober is thoughtful in carrying out his duties. He has a healthy debate within his office when preparing cases, does not blindside defense lawyers and treats the judicial process with care and respect. Ober lets the facts speak for themselves, and he does not misuse his office for political purposes. Judges have high regard for his integrity and the quality of his staff. Ober is deeply conscious of the power his office wields, and he has a sense of justice that speaks to his maturity and balanced career.
For Hillsborough state attorney, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Mark Ober.