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After 30 years, voters have a choice for Pinellas-Pasco state attorney | Editorial recommendation
The race pits a longtime prosecutor against a longtime public defender.
The race for Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney pits a longtime prosecutor against a longtime public defender.
The race for Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney pits a longtime prosecutor against a longtime public defender.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 11, 2022|Updated Oct. 11, 2022

The State Attorney for the Sixth Judicial Circuit is responsible for prosecuting criminal violations of state law that occur in Pinellas and Pasco counties. The office has an annual budget of about $40 million and more than 400 employees, including attorneys, victim advocates, investigators and support staff. The state attorney is elected to a four-year term and is paid $202,440 a year.

Related: Read the Times recommendations in other races.

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney — Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett
Bruce Bartlett [ Courtesy of Bruce Bartlett ]

For the first time in 30 years, voters will have a choice for the top law enforcement officer in Pinellas and Pasco counties. That choice is clear: They should elect Republican Bruce Bartlett.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Bartlett to be the state attorney in January 2021 after the sudden death of his old boss, longtime State Attorney Bernie McCabe. McCabe, an icon in Florida legal circles, had run unopposed since first being elected in 1992.

Bartlett, 68, has strong local ties. He went to Boca Ciega High School, St. Petersburg Junior College, the University of South Florida and the Stetson University College of Law. He first joined the state attorney’s office as an assistant prosecutor in 1979 and worked his way up to being McCabe’s chief assistant. Bartlett is respected for his grasp of the law and his experience handling a wide variety of cases. He led the prosecution teams that convicted some of Tampa Bay’s infamous criminals, including Oba Chandler, who murdered a vacationing Ohio mother and her two teen daughters in 1989. He was also on the prosecution teams that sent the killers of a Pasco sheriff’s lieutenant, a St. Petersburg police officer and a Tarpon Springs police officer to prison.

Bartlett has said that he wants to continue much of what McCabe championed, including the fair and zealous pursuit of justice. Bartlett, though, would also like to modernize the office. For instance, he gave the approximately 165 assistant prosecutors working in the office email accounts, something McCabe resisted for years. Bartlett is also moving the office toward a paperless system, which should improve efficiency. We encourage him to keep updating the office as new technologies come along and to be as transparent as possible with the data his office collects.

Bartlett pushed to add a mental health treatment court in the Sixth Circuit, adding to the drug treatment court and veterans treatment court already in place that help people from particular groups to get their lives turned around and to avoid ending up in prison. He has also championed a program that diverts first time DUI offenders who meet certain criteria out of the criminal courts and into DUI Rehabilitation of Offenders Program, or D.R.O.P. The program allows eligible misdemeanor offenders to avoid the harsh consequences attached to DUI convictions in Florida.

Like McCabe, Bartlett can dig his heels in on ideas, including some potential criminal justice reforms. Bartlett repeated to this editorial board his stance that he does not think a conviction integrity unit that looks at older cases for signs of misconduct or injustice is a good use of limited office resources. He says that hiring and retaining quality prosecutors — combined with the judicial system’s “thorough appeals process” — helps ensure that justice is done.

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Bartlett is up against Democrat Allison Miller, 39, a longtime and well-respected assistant public defender in the Pinellas-Pasco circuit. Miller, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Florida State University College of Law, has a lot of experience defending capital cases and was the capital case coordinator for Pinellas and Pasco counties and chief of staff for the Public Defender’s Office in Pasco County.

Miller, a first-time candidate for elected office, describes herself as a “natural leader” and “more well rounded” than Barlett, but she has never worked in the prosecutor’s office, an office that she said “lacks empathy and compassion.” If elected, she said she would work to hire more people of color and promote more women into leadership roles. While she does not personally support the death penalty, she gave a thorough and believable answer about how it’s the state attorney’s job to enforce the laws enacted by the state, including pursuing the death penalty in cases in which it is merited.

Miller is a sharp attorney, effective at making her point. Anyone facing a serious criminal charge would do well to have her as their attorney. But that does not make her the best candidate for this job.

Bartlett, who is running for elected office for the first time, is not the most polished politician, but he is the best candidate running in this race. He has a proven track record, including moving the office in the right direction during his less than two years in charge. For Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney, the Times recommends Bruce Bartlett.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.