Public Defender Candidate Profile: Andy Thomas

Public Defender Candidate Profile: Andy Thomas

Andy Thomas, incumbent Public Defender of the Second Judicial Circuit, is running for re-election in 2020. Jessica Yeary is also running for the position.

Thomas earned his law degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 1979. He has worked as a criminal defense lawyer since 1981 and has worked in many courtroom settings, including Juvenile, Misdemeanor, Felony, and Specialty Courts. He took office as Public Defender in 2017. His re-election campaign emphasizes a “holistic” criminal defense approach which includes networking with community agencies and building strong relationships with clients.


What motivated you to run for public defender?

“After 15+ years of being Chief Assistant at two agencies (Capital Collateral Regional Counsel – Northern Region, from 1997-2000 and Public Defender, 2nd Circuit, from 2004-2016), I accepted the challenge of running for Public Defender in 2016 because Nancy Daniels asked me to succeed her upon her retirement after 26 years of service (she endorsed me then and endorses me now), because I felt prepared and qualified after 35 years of law practice, and because I love the office and the clients we serve.”

What experience would you bring to the position?

“I began as an Assistant Public Defender in 1981 in Tampa, where I represented juveniles, minor misdemeanor offenses, and then serious felony offenses. I have represented men and women on Death Row, litigated their cases in postconviction and represented them while under death warrants, right up to execution in two cases. Since returning to the PD, I have done everything there is to do in a Public Defender office: appeals, fast track court, capital cases, administration, and defended poor people charged with every offense imaginable in all 6 counties of the Circuit.“
“I was in private practice in Quincy for 10 years (I still did conflict PD work), learning law office economics on a small scale. I now manage 65 attorneys, 130 total employees, and a budget over 10 million dollars. It takes experience to zealously defend your clients, oversee the largest criminal defense firm in the area, and also be a good steward of taxpayer dollars. There is little, if anything, I have not faced in a courtroom, in the Legislature, in board meetings, and in discussions with other stakeholders in the Criminal Justice system. After having served as the elected Public Defender for the past three and one-half years, I am more qualified to lead the office than ever before, and I am proud of our achievements.”

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the circuit?

“There are many challenges. At the forefront now is how we balance effective law enforcement with fair and equitable treatment of all citizens. We obviously have issues with racial profiling and racial disparities in policing, arresting, prosecuting, and sentencing. This is a broad community issue which will require a lot of work, listening, creativity, and understanding. We should continue to focus on money bail reform, as I have done my first term. We should be focusing on re-entry for our returning citizens and re-directing most offenders from jail or prison into therapeutic programs that actually reduce crime and promote public safety. We have a large population of clients with mental health issues and we need better systems to stabilize them.”
“We have a continuing issue with substance abusers who offend to use. Criminal justice reforms, both at the State and local levels, should be adopted and not just studied. We have plenty of data demonstrating that addressing underlying issues of poverty, education, employment, housing and food challenges, trauma from childhood, and many other underlying conditions works better than harsh sentencing and severe mandatory minimum terms in prison for drugs and a variety of other offenses.”
“We also face huge challenges due to the pandemic. We have only performed essential court functions since mid-March, so we will have a backlog of trials and dockets once we safely return to work. Securing our clients rights and continuing to reduce the jail population remain priorities, complicated by COVID-19.”
“We are thankful the Governor approved our 2020-2021 budget, but we face up to 6% in budget cuts over the course of the year. 2021 will be a very challenging year for everyone in the Criminal Justice system, including the Public Defender.”

What is your plan to address these challenges?

“I will address each challenge as it comes, on a case by case basis. There is no magic potion or one size fits all solution to the various challenges we face. Being a stakeholder at the table with our Sheriff, State Attorney, Chief Judge and many others allows me to address policy concerns and seek consensus on improvements and reforms at the local level. I pledge to continue to network with the Sheriff on his progressive programs focusing on re-entry efforts and mental health issues. We hope to convince the State Attorney to move more in that direction, too. Learning lessons from working remotely and how we can be more efficient in this new environment is important. Luckily, we were a paperless office before all this and we already had a wonderful technological foundation. We continually strive for better efficiencies. I will continue to propose and argue for reforms in the Legislature each session, both as a member of the Florida Public Defender Association and as a constitutional officer in our Circuit. We must keep representing our clients at a high level. Keep providing social and mental health services where needed (we were recently awarded a ‘Champion’ award by DCF and Big Bend Community Based Care for excelling as a Recovery Oriented System of Care). Our job one is representing our clients and lawyering as well as we can. In 2018-2019 we had the highest trial rate in the State and we had some of the best outcomes in the State. We know how to litigate cases in and out of court. That will always be our first priority. Protecting individual liberty and the rights of our clients.”

7 Responses to "Public Defender Candidate Profile: Andy Thomas"

  1. They both suck. Can’t a Republican run for this job? So we can actually prosecute criminals instead of holdong their hands?

    1. Ahh.. the standard and tired retort one uses when one cannot argue merits. Put down the bong, and pay closer attention in class.

  2. Utt Ohh Andy is using Marxist BLM & ANITFA buzz words along with Jessica. Now Andy’s obvious white privilege and Jessica’s are both on public display.
    Still the hair cut is Andy’s best path forward.

  3. “We obviously have issues with racial profiling and racial disparities in policing, arresting, prosecuting, and sentencing.”

    Please explain, with details, the “obvious issues” you lament… and exactly what actions, in your current term, you have taken to address the perceived problem.

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