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  1. Opinion

Hillsborough State Attorney: The Times Editorial Board recommendation

The incumbent faces a former colonel from the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office.

The State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit is responsible for prosecuting all criminal violations of state law that occur in Hillsborough County. The office has an annual budget of about $30 million and nearly 300 employees, including attorneys, victim advocates, investigators and support staff. The state attorney is elected to a four-year term and paid $174,641 per year.

Andrew Warren

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warrren [ Andrew Warrren ]

Democrat Andrew Warren has put a more just, practical face on the criminal justice system since winning election as Hillsborough State Attorney four years ago. His office has become a model for good judgment and data-driven decisions, and he deserves another term to follow through on this productive course.

Warren, 43, is a former federal prosecutor and private-sector attorney who upset the incumbent, Republican State Attorney Mark Ober, in 2016. He has delivered on his promise to rethink the approach of the prosecutor’s office, bringing a new focus toward rehabilitation for juveniles and minor offenders, and recasting the office as more of an independent voice in the local criminal justice system.

Warren has used diversion programs to keep low-level criminals out of the prison pipeline. He has supported drug treatment, mental health and veterans' services as a means of targeting the needs of high-risk populations. Warren understands the burden a criminal record can have on minor offenders, especially children, and his office is doing the necessary work of distinguishing who is a public safety threat and who merits a second chance. That frees up prosecutors and the courts to focus on those who belong behind bars, and it offers a vehicle for those who’ve made a mistake to reorient to a more productive life.

His opponent, Republican Mike Perotti, is a former colonel with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office who’s currently the agency’s legal counsel. Perotti, 48, who also served as an assistant state attorney in Hillsborough, agrees with much of Warren’s restorative approach, especially in the handling of juvenile cases. But Perotti said his legal and law enforcement background gives him a more rounded perspective of what works and what doesn’t.

Warren has ably balanced the fine line that prosecutorial discretion requires. After the demonstrations nationwide this summer over the police treatment of Black Americans erupted across Tampa Bay, Warren drew a clear distinction between prosecuting rioters and looters and protecting the rights of those assembling peacefully. While some in law enforcement may have chafed at his decisions, Warren in standing on a bedrock principle — that prosecutors make charging decisions independent of the police. He also created a unit within the office to review past prosecutions, which resulted in the freeing in August of Robert DuBoise, a Tampa man who served 37 years in prison for a murder and rape he did not commit.

Warren is bringing a much-needed eye to a range of biases within the justice system, even as he better targets his resources toward true safety threats. He has risen to the dual obligations of the job in a way that inspires public faith and serves as a model for prosecutors statewide. For Hillsborough State Attorney, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Democrat Andrew Warren.

Related: How the Times makes its political recommendations.
Related: All of the Times Editorial Board recommendations

Candidate replies

The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. They can send a reply of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Oct. 9 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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