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Should Pinellas name courthouse after prosecutor Bernie McCabe?

Residents will get the chance to weigh in at next week’s Pinellas County Commission meeting.
The Pinellas County Justice Center at 14250 49th Street N.
The Pinellas County Justice Center at 14250 49th Street N. [ Google Maps street view ]
Published Mar. 4
Updated Mar. 4

The debate over whether to name the criminal courthouse after the late Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe continued Thursday during a county commission work session.

At stake in the discussion was whether the county’s honorary naming rights policy dictates that a person must be dead for at least five years before naming a building after them. County Administrator Barry Burton said that, after researching the issue, that is the policy.

But he said commissioners can wave it if they want to for McCabe, who died Jan. 1 at the age of 73.

The Pinellas County Commission will discuss and potentially vote on the matter at Tuesday’s commission meeting. As with all commission meetings, residents can weigh in during public comment. The meeting starts at 2 p.m.

Related: Pinellas commission considers renaming buildings after legal icons

The request to name Pinellas County Justice Center after McCabe was spearheaded by Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican who used to work in the State Attorney’s Office and considered McCabe a mentor.

The board is also considering a request to name one of Pinellas’ three courthouses or the county law library after Fred G. Minnis, a civil rights leader and the county’s first full-time Black lawyer. Minnis died in 1991. A Bar association named in his honor submitted the request Dec. 1, more than month before Sprowls sent in his request for McCabe.

Bernie McCabe, the former top prosecutor for Pinellas and Pasco counties, and Fred G. Minnis Sr., Pinellas County's first full-time black lawyer.
Bernie McCabe, the former top prosecutor for Pinellas and Pasco counties, and Fred G. Minnis Sr., Pinellas County's first full-time black lawyer. [ Times files ]

But the bulk of the debate centered on McCabe, and whether naming a courthouse after a prosecutor would create a perception of unequal justice for courthouse visitors. McCabe served as the top elected prosecutor in Pinellas and Pasco counties for 28 years.

Commissioners Janet Long, Pat Gerard and Karen Seel said they were more partial to naming the state attorney’s office within the courthouse after McCabe, rather than the entire building. The courthouse at 14250 49th Street N is also home to the Public Defender’s Office, the Pinellas clerk of court and the county’s criminal courtrooms.

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

“I don’t want anybody to ever walk into that building thinking Bernie McCabe the state attorney was the be all end all,” Gerard said, adding she was influenced by phone calls she’d received from constituents. “He was a wonderful guy, and I really enjoyed him.

“But yeah, the scales of justice go both ways, and that just speaks a lot to me.”

Commissioners also mentioned a request they’d received via email to name the criminal courthouse after both McCabe and Robert Jagger, Pinellas-Pasco’s first public defender who held the title for 35 years, as a possible solution to represent both sides of the criminal justice system in the renaming. Jagger died last year.