THE HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY Attorney’s Office works with local law enforcement to administer justice and manage the prosecution of most felony crimes. In April 2018, before I took office, my predecessor, Dennis Hogan, tried to obtain $500,000 of additional funding and had called his office “on the brink of collapse.” This was an act of desperation to help shore up an office that he and other county leaders had misled into being under-resourced for at least eight years.
In my career, I have worked with companies struggling to comply with their duties and obligations, including startups and billion-dollar global organizations, like the TD Garden going through a time of crisis after being investigated and sanctioned by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. It was clear to me that the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office needed help, so I decided to stand up and take a step forward to help the people of Hillsborough County, I knew we could do better. In the fall of 2018 I was elected to turn things around.
After taking office in January 2019, I dug in, met with the staff, and leveraged my background to analyze operations. What I found was shocking: the average caseload per prosecutor was more than double that of other county attorney offices in the state. This caused ethical and operational consequences that spilled over into my tenure. With more than 3,500 cases coming into the office annually, and an obligation to public safety and crime victims to give attention to every case, this problem needed to be quickly addressed. Within three months of taking office I had developed a four-year plan to bring additional resources into the office while spreading out the impact to taxpayers. Before the budget cycle began, I exhausted available remedies and hired two prosecutors, including one from the Attorney General’s Office with several years of experience.
Despite this early progress, the state Attorney General’s Office maintained its concerns and eventually took over the day-to-day management of Hillsborough County’s prosecutorial operations and asked for my resignation. I knew there was much more to be done and that new resources would show further progress soon, so I declined. Strong management was needed and my departure would only have caused further instability for the team. I would not abandon them.
More than ever, the office needed me to help ensure the next decisions were reasonable, appropriate and furthered the mission of improving our operations. The people of Hillsborough County elected me to do a job and I was dedicated to that mission, then and now.
The uncomfortable meetings were a small price to pay for being able to support and advocate for an office with such important responsibilities to our community. Months later, through our collaboration, the Attorney General returned authority to me and noted the improvements made. He stated in a letter that as far back as April 2017, on taking office, he was immediately concerned with the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office and “systemic issues” that were created before my tenure. We shared this concern and by working together, with additional resources from his office and my leadership, we made progress.
When I met with my predecessor before taking office, Hogan didn’t know the names of the prosecutors who worked for him. Now he’s back on the campaign trail, having endorsed my re-election opponent, John Coughlin.
You won’t hear my opponent talk much about his time many years ago as Hillsborough County Attorney and for good reason.
Decades of experience walked out the door during his tenure, having either quit or been fired. Coughlin got in trouble with the Attorney General’s Office for hanging an offensive photo in his office that he refused to take down. He even launched an investigation into his own team after accidentally recording himself at work calling co-workers “a bed of snakes” and talking about hitting an employee on the head.
Coughlin then quit before finishing his first year, but enough damage was done. It was continued by Hogan over the eight years before I took office in 2019. This is not the type of leadership that is needed at the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office.
I have worked hard to move in a different direction, overcome adversity and lead by example, with integrity, dedication and experience. Between now and November 3rd the voters of Hillsborough County have a choice: revert back to old leaders that had their chance and drove the office to the brink of collapse, or support progress with a dedicated public servant who has shown the strength to stand up, support victims of crime and law enforcement, and work together with the Attorney General’s Office. With your support I hope to continue as your county attorney because we are now on the brink of greatness.