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Longtime defender loses to ex-assistant // PINELLAS-PASCO PUBLIC DEFENDER

Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Robert Jagger, who spent 35 years in office and is thought to be the nation's longest-serving public defender, lost his job Tuesday to a former assistant, Bob Dillinger.

"I feel very good. . . . I'm very pleased to be able to serve the public," Dillinger said late Tuesday.

Asked what he thought was the deciding factor in the race, Dillinger said "taking the high road." He said he meant his approach of "not going into a negative campaign, particularly a false negative campaign."

Jagger had sent out mailings sharply criticizing Dillinger because a grievance committee of the Florida Bar had admonished him for "minor misconduct." The admonishment stemmed from a client's complaint that Dillinger had not pursued a case vigorously enough. Dillinger later sought to have the Bar reopen the case, after pointing out a member of the grievance committee served on Jagger's campaign.

Late in the campaign, Jagger said that it was Dillinger who had been negative, by criticizing his administration of the office. In fact, he said Dillinger was so negative that he avoided debating him.

"No comment," Jagger said late Tuesday after results showed him trailing.

Dillinger will not face an opponent in the November general election because he and Jagger, both Republicans, were the only candidates to run for the office.

Jagger, 69, became public defender in 1961 and over the years turned a one-man office into a two-county staff with a $10-million budget. He was honored as the nation's top public defender in 1968 and was honored again this year by the Florida Bar's criminal law section.

Dillinger, 45, said Jagger was out of touch because he had not personally tried a case in more than 20 years. Dillinger also said Jagger overpaid certain members of his staff.

Jagger argued that managing a well-run public defender's officeand keeping pace with changing laws and technology was far more important than trying cases. He also said his employees' salaries were in line with what other public defenders pay.

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