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Democrat files to challenge Suzy Lopez for Hillsborough state attorney

Elizabeth Martinez Strauss is the daughter of Rosalie Bolin, who famously married a death row inmate, and prominent criminal defense lawyer Victor Martinez.
 
Attorney Elizabeth Martinez Strauss has filed to run as a Democrat in the race to be Hillsborough County's state attorney.
Attorney Elizabeth Martinez Strauss has filed to run as a Democrat in the race to be Hillsborough County's state attorney. [ Strauss Law Firm ]
Published Feb. 6|Updated Feb. 6

The question of whether Hillsborough State Attorney Suzy Lopez would see competition in the November election got a surprise answer when Tampa lawyer Elizabeth Martinez Strauss recently filed to run.

“I’m definitely qualified,” said Strauss, 35, a Democrat who was raised in Tampa in a well-known legal family. “I’m not interested in being in politics, but I know I can do a better job than Suzy Lopez.”

Strauss’ entry into the race adds a wrinkle in an already complex political scenario: State Attorney Andrew Warren was suspended from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022 and replaced with Lopez, a political ally.

Since then, Lopez has shored up substantial support within the local legal community as she runs to stay in office. Financial contributions to her campaign have totaled more than $250,000.

Warren, who has been fighting in the courts to get his job back, last month announced he wouldn’t run against Lopez in 2024, citing the likelihood that DeSantis would suspend him again if he won. Two days after he made that decision, an appeals court ruled in his favor. The legal twist has left it unclear in recent weeks whether he might reconsider his decision.

Strauss, meanwhile, is the only Democrat to enter the race.

She attended Plant and Blake high schools and Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. She has worked as an assistant public defender in Tampa and a prosecutor handling rape and murder cases in New Orleans. She said she wants more transparency in the office and to have experienced lawyers screen cases to decide on charges.

Lopez “is a career prosecutor, she’s never been on the defense side,” Strauss said. “I understand how easy it is to have tunnel vision.”

Strauss might be best known locally for her legal roots: Her father is prominent defense lawyer Victor Martinez, and her mother is Rosalie Bolin, who worked with the public defender’s office and made national headlines when she married convicted serial killer Oscar Ray Bolin, who was executed in 2016.

Asked about how that notoriety might affect her campaign, Strauss, who is close with her family, said: “It’s a fact. I’m not going to argue with that.”

“Nobody consulted with me about my mom’s decision to marry anybody when I was 6 years old,” she said. “And if I was, I would have said: ‘I object.’”

“But I think if you talk to people who know me or know my mom or my dad, you will get positive feedback,” she said.

On her campaign website, Strauss touts an agenda that includes making case evidence more open and accessible to defense attorneys. She also says she will prioritize the worst offenders while ensuring fair sentencing.

Lopez’s campaign consultant, Ryan Smith, issued a statement Monday about Strauss’ candidacy.

“Liberal Elizabeth Strauss is kicking off her campaign by advocating for weak sentencing laws — no surprise for someone whose limited legal career has been mostly spent defending criminals,” Smith wrote. “In contrast, Suzy Lopez is a career prosecutor who has punished criminals and delivered justice for victims for nearly two decades. It is clear that Hillsborough residents are safer with Suzy. That’s why Suzy is endorsed by Sheriff (Chad) Chronister and the statewide and local chapters of the Police Benevolent Association.”

DeSantis removed Warren because he said the progressive prosecutor refused to follow the law, citing pledges he had signed with other prosecutors nationally not to pursue cases involving abortion or transgender health care. The governor also cited Warren policies that discouraged prosecuting some low-level crimes.

Warren’s has argued his suspension was a political stunt and that he was removed for exercising his free speech rights. Asked Monday whether he might change his mind about running in 2024, Warren said, “I’m considering it.” He added that he is waiting to see how the courts rule on whether he can be reinstated.

“No matter who is ultimately our party’s nominee, I have no doubt they will understand the basics of democracy and the rule of law,” he said. “Right now, my focus is on finishing the term I was elected to serve, not on running for the next one.”

Strauss said what happened to Warren “was wrong, and I hope he does get his job back.”

Running for state attorney was not something she planned to do.

“I would happily step down if somebody could show me someone more passionate,” she said. “I can’t just stand by and do nothing.”

Her mother continues to work as a mitigation specialist and has 16 death penalty cases around the state.

“We’re very proud,” Bolin said Monday of her daughter’s candidacy.