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Hillsborough could flip on honor for ex-county prosecutor

Commission will consider recognizing Michael Sinacore, now an assistant U.S. attorney.
Acting State Attorney Susan Lopez, top, is pictured on the lobby wall of the Pat Frank Courthouse in Tampa. Suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren is pictured at the bottom right.
Acting State Attorney Susan Lopez, top, is pictured on the lobby wall of the Pat Frank Courthouse in Tampa. Suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren is pictured at the bottom right. [ SUE CARLTON Times ]
Published Dec. 5, 2022|Updated Dec. 5, 2022

TAMPA — The on-again, off-again movement to honor the former chief assistant Hillsborough County state attorney is back on again.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Michael Owen plans to ask his colleagues on Wednesday to rename a conference room in the downtown county courthouse after former Chief Assistant State Attorney Michael Sinacore.

Owen’s pitch comes five weeks after former Commissioner Mariella Smith blocked the honor, saying it was inappropriate for “the unelected, temporary state attorney to be permanently naming public property while the court case to determine whether she is in that seat legitimately or not is still pending.”

Hillsborough County State Attorney Susan Lopez had sought commission blessing to rename the conference room for Sinacore, who is now an assistant U.S. attorney after serving 19 years in the state prosecutor’s office.

Lopez was named Hillsborough’s top prosecutor by Gov. Ron DeSantis in August when he ousted twice-elected Andrew Warren from his job as 13th Judicial Circuit state attorney. DeSantis, a Republican, said the Democratic state attorney disregarded his duty to enforce state laws regarding abortion and transgender health care cases. Warren filed suit in federal court denying the allegations and said the governor defied the will of the voters and violated Warren’s right to free speech. Testimony in the case concluded last week and a ruling is expected within two weeks.

At Smith’s urging, the commission voted 7-0 on Nov. 2 to defer Lopez’s request to honor Sinacore and not have it “come back to the board from the State Attorney’s Office until there is an elected state attorney back in office.”

Owen said Monday his item doesn’t run afoul of the earlier board motion because he, not the state attorney, is making the request.

Smith, a Democrat, also planned to ask the commission to rename an auditorium and training room after Warren, but dropped her request after losing her reelection bid on Nov. 8. Republicans now hold a 4-3 majority on the board.

Owen, one of three new Republican commissioners, is an attorney and requested the honor for Sinacore to be reconsidered, in part, to recognize him receiving the Hillsborough County Bar Association professionalism award for government lawyers on Oct. 13.

“Michael deserves it. His body of work has really been unmatched,” Owen said. “And, I think he was kind of a little bit of a victim of some politics on the board and I don’t think that’s fair that he suffers for it.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Sinacore was formerly chief assistant in the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Sinacore was formerly chief assistant in the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. [ Hillsborough County ]

The conference room is on the third floor of the Pat Frank Courthouse on Pierce Street. The room serves as a meeting space for attorneys, investigative staff and law enforcement working specifically on cases in the special victims unit that handles some of the most sensitive cases, including child crime victims, according to the agenda for Wednesday’s county commission meeting.

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Lopez told commissioners in an Oct. 20 letter that a lawyer’s work often takes place in conference rooms and it “is the perfect space to recognize Mr. Sinacore and inspire all who work here to pursue justice fairly and equally, just as he has.”