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Hillsborough State Attorney

This race has been shaped in large part by the suicide of State Attorney Harry Lee Coe.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


In recent years, the race for Hillsborough state attorney has been closely watched and hard fought. This year is no exception.

Harry Lee Coe's suicide in July and the resulting investigations have many eyes focused on his potential replacements. So far, the two remaining candidates, Republican Mark Ober and Democrat Robert Shimberg, have proved able campaigners.

Both raised loads of money to finance TV ads and direct mailings before the September primary elections and handily beat their opponents. The money has continued to flow, though both candidates have vowed to run positive campaigns. They say they want to stick to issues and not highlight each other's weaknesses.

Ober, 49, entered the race in February, long before the latest scandals surrounding Coe and the office materialized.

At first, his campaign was focused on knocking off an incumbent Ober said had become ineffective and lacking in leadership. With Coe's death, Ober had to change gears and focus more on what he would do for the office.

He has touted his experience as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, a career that has put Ober in the media spotlight many times. At the state attorney's office, he headed several units, including major crimes and homicide, for which he tried many death penalty cases. He left the office in 1987 and gradually became one of the most respected criminal defense attorneys in the county.

Ober thinks the office needs a strong leader who can motivate employees and raise public confidence. He plans to enhance mentoring programs to improve the skills of young lawyers. He said his decade of teaching classes at Hillsborough Community College will help him pass along his knowledge and experience.

His top staff would include people with expertise in areas that he is not as familiar with, such as finance and budget matters, not a group of friends or family, Ober said.

"This office needs strong leadership and someone the employees will respect and learn from," Ober said. "On the whole, the office runs well, but it is need of more guidance from the top."

Shimberg, 38, jumped into the race after Coe killed himself in July and Democrats were scrambling for someone to replace the two-term state attorney. He is on leave from the law firm of Hill, Ward & Henderson, where he has worked for two years.

Before that, he worked for Coe for five years. He helped set up a program to help crime victims get restitution from delinquent defendants and started Cease Fire Tampa to promote firearms safety.

Shimberg said he would bring that "can-do" philosophy to the office. "I've shown that I can take on a challenge and make a difference," he said. "I've instituted programs that have done just that."

Shimberg wants to streamline the daily docket system so both prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys don't waste time waiting for their cases to be called. Sometimes they wait an hour or more for cases to be called, something that rarely happens in civil court, where lawyers make high hourly fees.

"Maybe we could stagger the times that the cases are called instead of calling them all for 8:30 in the morning," Shimberg said. "It's just one of many things that's at least worth looking into."

THE JOB

The state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit prosecutes defendants charged with misdemeanors and felonies in Hillsborough County and oversees a staff of about 300, including more than 100 lawyers, and a budget of about $18.5-million. The state attorney serves a four-year term and is paid $135,576.

REPUBLICAN

MARK OBER, 49, a Brandon High graduate, started his legal career as an intern at the state attorney's office before graduating from South Texas College of Law in 1977. As a prosecutor, Ober headed several divisions, including homicide and major crimes, and tried dozens of felony cases, including first-degree murder and death penalty cases. He has been a private defense attorney since 1987. He has taught for a decade as an adjunct professor at Hillsborough County Community College. Ober is twice divorced and has two children. ASSETS: home, IRA, mutual funds. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: law practice.

DEMOCRAT

ROBERT SHIMBERG, 38, grew up in Tampa and attended Chamberlain High. He received a finance degree and law degree from the University of Florida. He worked as a private attorney before joining the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, where he spent nearly five years. Shimberg left the office in 1998 to join the Tampa firm of Hill, Ward & Henderson. He has served on the Florida Bar Grievance Committee, the Tampa Housing Authority and has been involved with the Say No to Drugs Walk and the United Way. He also coaches youth baseball and soccer teams. He is married and has three children. ASSETS: home, gas station, checking account. LIABILITIES: mortgage, loan. SOURCE OF INCOME: law practice, gas station.

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