Incumbent Holt holding steady lead in early tallies

Published November 3, 2004

TAMPA - Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt appeared headed to a fourth term in office Tuesday, leading challenger William Knight with a slim but steady margin.

"I anticipate a great victory,"," said Holt, 50, celebrating with supporters at Czar, an Ybor City nightclub, as results poured in. "Great job. Mission accomplished. No one could ask for a better turnout."

Holt, a Democrat with a degree from the South Texas College of Law, first won election as Hillsborough's public defender in 1992, and voters have repeatedly returned her to office despite allegations of ethics lapses.

During the campaign against Knight, she said she had saved taxpayers more than $1-million a year with her initiatives at the Public Defender's Office.

They include steering clients away from jail into diversion programs and jobs, and negotiating with experts for good rates.

Holt's 36-year-old Republican challenger, Knight, received a law degree from Stetson University College of Law in 1993, worked as an assistant public defender in Hillsborough for four years and now runs a solo practice specializing in criminal defense.

"It has been very humbling, the support that we have gotten from people who got involved in the campaign," said Knight, with supporters at Newks Cafe in Tampa. "I'm very proud of the effort we have put in, no matter what the result."

During the campaign, Knight's chief contention was that too many talented, dedicated lawyers were leaving Holt's office because they were being treated unfairly. Compared with public defender's offices of similar size across Florida, he said, the turnover rate in Hillsborough is disproportionately high. Holt's response: She had no control over the turnover rate.

The public defender represents criminal defendants who cannot afford lawyers. The office has a staff of 200, including some 85 lawyers, with an annual budget of about $10-million.