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A Times Editorial

Sandler for public defender

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 21, 2000


Julianne Holt can claim some positive accomplishments as Hillsborough's public defender, including modernizing the office's operations and adding mental health professionals, drug counselors and other staff who deal with the broader problems so often associated with crime. However, those accomplishments have been overshadowed by a pattern of misjudgments and ethical lapses that compromise the credibility of her office.

Holt was rebuked by a grand jury and still has several unresolved allegations hanging over her head. Thanks in great part to a toothless state ethics commission, Holt has escaped more serious sanctions, but the public defender should be held to a higher standard. Yet Holt, a Democrat seeking her third term in office, seems oblivious to that responsibility. She still defends the hiring of unqualified cronies, the use of staff for personal and political tasks on public time and her inappropriate associations with convicted felons and criminal defendants beyond the duties of her office.

In Republican Alan Sandler, Holt faces a general election challenger with the experience and temperament to restore the credibility of the public defender's office. Sandler understands the mechanics of the job, having served as a top litigator in the public defender's office in the early 1990s. Now in private practice, Sandler promises to bring openness and a higher set of ethical standards to his public duties.

The concern over ethics goes well beyond Holt. In effect, the entire Hillsborough Courthouse in on trial this November. The circumstances surrounding the suicide of State Attorney Harry Lee Coe are still under investigation, and the election to choose Coe's replacement will help to determine whether that office will undergo overdue reform. Meanwhile, a grand jury is working its way through a maze of scandals involving Hillsborough judges.

Holt is a prime figure in that unseemly courthouse environment. Not surprisingly, she has raised much more money than Sandler and is waging a more active campaign. Sandler can't match Holt's political connections, but he has the personal and professional qualifications to run the public defender's office the way it should be run. The Times recommends Alan Sandler.

Opportunity to reply

The Times offers candidates not recommended by its editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates in the races discussed today should send in their replies no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday to: Philip Gailey, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. (E-mail: letters@sptimes.com; Fax: 893-8675). Replies are limited to 250 words.

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