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By SARAH SCHWEITZER
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000
TAMPA -- With two-thirds of the precincts counted, Julianne Holt held a comfortable lead over Republican challenger Alan Sandler in the race for public defender Tuesday night.
Holt, a two-term Democratic incumbent, was the favorite going into Tuesday's race, having heavily outspent Sandler during the campaign.
"Everyone told me to stop worrying, that I was too intense, that I cared too much, that my hair was going gray," Holt told a crowd of more than 100 supporters at the Cherokee Club in Ybor City shortly after 10 p.m. "The bottom line is the votes are coming in and thank you."
Holt was running amid an inquiry into her office's management practices. Several former employees have filed complaints with the state Ethics Commission alleging that, among other things, Holt asked employees to perform personal work for her on state time.
Holt has denied the claims, saying the former employees are disgruntled and out to sabotage her campaign.
In 1996, Holt won re-election under similar circumstances. She faced a criminal investigation into her handling of office resources, and faced claims that she violated state ethics laws. She was later cleared of criminal wrongdoing, but a grand jury rebuked her management decisions.
Holt raised more than $120,000 in contributions this campaign, while Sandler said he raised $20,000, including $7,000 of his own money. Holt used much of her money to buy billboard space and newspaper ads to trumpet the $2.5-million she claims her office saved taxpayers during her tenure.
Holt, 46, said the savings came from a decreased reliance on attorneys appointed when her staff cannot represent a client because of a conflict, such as when two defendants are charged in the same crime. In those cases, a private attorney is appointed.
Sandler, 39, a private attorney and former assistant public defender who worked for Holt during her first two years in office, did not dispute Holt's figures, but said any savings were washed away by a high turnover rate and poor office management.
Holt, a Tampa native and graduate of the South Texas College of Law, first won election in 1992, when she defeated longtime Public Defender Judge C. Luckey.
In her last term, Holt's office was credited with performing well in several high-profile cases, including the case of Valessa Robinson, the Carrollwood girl accused of killing her mother. The girl had faced a first-degree murder charge and a potential life sentence but was convicted of third-degree murder.