Bob Dillinger joins request to name Pinellas courthouse after Bernie McCabe

The retired public defender sent a letter to Pinellas County Commissioners endorsing the idea first pitched by Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls.
Former Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe.
Former Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Jan. 21, 2021|Updated Jan. 21, 2021

Retired public defender Bob Dillinger this week became the latest public official to request that the Pinellas County Justice Center be named after late Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

The longtime Pinellas-Pasco public defender, who retired last month after 24 years leading the office, made the request in a letter to county commissioners sent Wednesday, about a week and a half after Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls made the initial request.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas Clerk of the Circuit Court Ken Burke, Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino and acting Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bruce Bartlett also signed Sprowls’ letter. Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, previously worked for the State Attorney’s Office and saw McCabe as a mentor.

Retired Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger.
Retired Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

“It has been a privilege to have known Bernie for over 40 years both professionally and as a personal friend,” Dillinger wrote. “His word was his bond and as a public defender for 24 years our offices have had mutual respect and worked together for the good of the community.”

Related: Bernie McCabe, Pinellas-Pasco’s top prosecutor, dies at age 73

McCabe died Jan. 1 at age 73. He was first elected state attorney in 1992 and had run unopposed since. In April he was automatically elected to another four-year term that was to start Jan. 5. Following his death, the chief judge appointed McCabe’s longtime chief assistant, Bartlett, as acting state attorney.

Gov. Ron DeSantis will have to appoint an interim state attorney, and then voters will elect a new state attorney in 2022. DeSantis has yet to appoint an interim leader for the agency, and his office spokespeople have declined to say when that will happen.

The sprawling Justice Center is located at 14250 49th St. N and is home to the State Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices, along with courtrooms, judge’s chambers and the office of the clerk and comptroller.

Related: Florida House Speaker: Rename Pinellas courthouse after Bernie McCabe

The idea to rename the courthouse after McCabe has gotten pushback from defense attorney Haydee Oropesa. She questioned the fairness of naming the courthouse after a man “who represented the prosecutorial side of a criminal case, especially for those who will have to walk through its doors and are being prosecuted while they are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

“Our Constitution ... calls for equal justice under the law for all,” she said in an email, “not just justice for the prosecuting government side.”

The Pinellas County Justice Center seen on June 17, 2020.
The Pinellas County Justice Center seen on June 17, 2020. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]