TALLAHASSEE — Pete Williams (R) is pulling no punches as the race for State Attorney nears its final days. His opponent, Jack Campbell (D), is not ducking from the onslaught.
Williams accuses Campbell of continuing the legacy of Willie Meggs, a legacy, Williams called, full of cronyism, nepotism and even racism.
Meggs has been Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit’s State Attorney for 32 years and was a good friend of Campbell’s father, the late Sheriff Larry Campbell. Meggs hired Campbell right out of law school in 2001 and Campbell has been there ever since.
Williams called that an “abuse of office,” a “good ole boy office,” and “crony nepotism.”
“(Sheriff Campbell and Meggs) hired each other’s son and then they were (at the newspaper) expressing the hope that each of them would take over from their respective offices upon retirement. It’s been a 15-year plan to promote him and hand him the job like it’s a dynasty, a family held position,” said Williams.
Campbell, not surprisingly, sees it differently.
“With all I’ve learned over the last 15 years, I don’t think I should be embarrassed about my background,” Campbell said.
“I’m lucky enough to have a broad range of experience and broad range of relationships throughout the community. I’m not sure what it means to be a ‘Good Ole Boy,’ but if it means I know a lot of people in the community and have a long record of public service, then I’ll wear it that badge proudly. If the suggestion is I’m corrupt and the only reason I’ve had any success in the community is because of who my dad is, I would disagree. I’ve proven my own merit and while I somewhat went into the family business, the reason is because I learned the value of public service. It’s a great calling. I’m proud of my roots and the lessons I’ve gotten from them,” he said.
But Williams said the cronyism goes even deeper. “What breaks you get depends on who you are and what you look like,” he said.
“If you are a young person that’s a nobody, you’re handled too severely. But on the other hand, if you’re somebody’s son, you get breaks. That’s what’s been going on for 32 years and that’s what Jack Campbell has grown up in. That’s what he was taught. The office is abused. Young people should pay for their mistakes without a criminal record following them,” Williams said.
He continued, “It has also had racially disparate effects. I have seen it my whole career and particularly worse here. Each step of the way they try to maximize the sentencing. You end up with a prison population of this county that is overwhelmingly African American. It offends me, everybody needs to be treated the same. That’s what’s not happening.”
Campbell agreed that this state attorney’s office has prosecuted aggressively, but not that people with means and connections were treated any differently than those without.
“I do agree we have been aggressive prosecutors and the way the office has been focused has been on trials and incarceration and probation rather than being more broad in our response,” he said, “but I totally disagree that it has varied based on who you are or who you know or who you’re related to. We have consistently been seeking hard sentences and taking a hardline stance where we often sought severe sanctions. Personally, I have been looking for broader approaches such as Restorative Justice or veterans court or mental health court. This is something I would do differently as State Attorney. I would give my prosecutors a more broad range of tools and solve the problem and try to minimize recidivism.”
He continued, “I deny William’s allegation that there is cronyism and how you are sentenced depends upon who you are and I defy him to give examples of where people have been given breaks because of who they are, or that they have been handled more harshly because of who they are.”
“He has yet to show me a single case in the last five years or a case I was involved with ever (in which someone was treated differently). The only one he mentions is Frankie Fudge and I had nothing to do with that,” Campbell said.
“I’m concerned about the temperament of someone making an allegation not backed up by evidence,” Campbell said.