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Yeary challenges Thomas for public defender job

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times
The Apalach Times

The election for public defender in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Franklin and five other counties, will be decided on Tuesday, Aug. 18 in the Democrat primary.

But if you’re a member of the Grand Old Party, or any one of a number of small parties, or even without party affiliation, you’ll be able to vote.

That’s because just two Democrats are running, and therefore it’s an open primary, where everyone can cast a ballot.

Incumbent Andy Thomas, 65, of Tallahassee, is facing a challenge from Jessica Yeary, 36, of Tallahassee, for election to a four-year-term.

Thomas was first elected in 2016, in an uncontested race to succeed the retiring Nancy Daniels.

Dating back to Aug. 2016, Thomas has raised about $43,600 in monetary contributions, about $11,400 in in-kind donations, and $10,000 in loans to his campaign.

Yeary, dating back to Feb. 2019, has raised about twice that, roughly $105,000, with $6,800 in in-kind donations and no loans.

To win the job, which pays roughly $170,000 per year, voters throughout the circuit, which encompasses Franklin as well as Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla counties, have to give one of the two candidates a majority of votes.

As of Tuesday, Franklin County had 3,743 registered Democrats, 3,224 Republicans and 1,271 either without party affiliation or with a small party, for a total of 8,238 possible votes.

Those who are not yet registered have until Monday, July 20 to sign up to be eligible to vote in the Aug. 18 election. Early voting begins Monday, Aug. 3.

JESSICA YEARY

My name is Jessica Yeary and I have dedicated my career to advocating for and protecting the constitutional rights of the criminally accused in our circuit.

I have walked juveniles through a criminal justice system that they were not prepared for and counseled habitual offenders as to their rights, the law, and potential outcomes. I have carried the heavy burden that is a public defender's caseload, juggled nearly a dozen hearings before lunch, and still made time to assist and educate young attorneys in their fight to preserve justice.

I have battled day in and day out with government prosecutors and pushed for them to see my clients as human beings in need of assistance, and not just case files in need of closing. I have litigated and argued in the courtroom through extensive motion practice and complex jury trials, and my record shows that I have done so effectively.

My first nine years were spent at the public defender's office where I was promoted to positions of leadership throughout my tenure. I am board certified in criminal trial law by the Florida Bar and am proudly serving my second term as the president of the Tallahassee Chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

I am committed to making meaningful change in the criminal justice system as your attorney in the courtroom, your ally in the neighborhood, and your advocate for justice.

As your public defender, I will continue to defend clients and carry a caseload to set the example of the highest level of representation in our office. I will forge relationships and build trust with our neighbors in the community to learn the most important issues and how we can work together to solve them.

Finally, I will be the voice of our clients and their families to ensure that we are champions of the crucial criminal justice reforms needed in our circuit. Now is the time for action, not absence, and we must lead the charge in defending our clients and demanding accountability and equal justice under the law.

Our campaign has a strong presence in each of the six counties in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, and we have seen an outpouring of support from citizens who are tired of the status quo and ready for fresh leadership in our criminal justice system.

Criminal defense has been my life’s work, and I am driven by the mission of the public defender's office. Too often, appointed attorneys are seen as less effective and less motivated, but I know that with dedicated and skilled representation, we will make a true difference in the lives of our clients and our community. I humbly ask for your support on Aug. 18.

ANDY THOMAS

Andy Thomas, public defender for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, which includes Franklin County, is running for re-election. During Andy's first term, he and Courtenay Miller, chief assistant public defender for Franklin County, have successfully upgraded both our physical office and our delivery of services to our clients.

Our local staff provides personal, prompt, and highly competent legal services to those charged with crimes, but cannot afford a private attorney. This accounts for 85-90 percent of all persons charged with crimes.

We obtain diversions, dismissals, reduced charges, suppress unlawfully seized evidence, and try cases as necessary. We help clients obtain social services, mental health services, and drug treatment when appropriate. Our model of holistic public defense and delivery of vast social services is being promoted around the state as humane, effective, pro-public safety, and cost-effective.

We have increased training, both in-house and out-of-office; our circuit wide staff is diverse and energetic. We have roughly half men and half women in our lawyer ranks. We actively recruit underrepresented populations in the legal field.

Our circuit-wide trial rate and success rate both remain among the highest in the state of Florida.

When COVID-19 hit our circuit, we were ready because of our improved technology in all six counties. We are able to operate in a paperless environment and have represented our clients throughout the pandemic.

We have cultivated strong relationships with government stakeholders and funding entities. Andy's combined efforts with other elected public defenders in the legislature have resulted in around a quarter-million dollars in new funding from the legislature since taking office in 2017. We have networked with other agencies, including state attorneys when, in our mutual best interest, to obtain increased salaries and additional resources. Our attorneys now start at $50,000 a year. We hope this helps us retain our dedicated assistant public defenders.

As leader of the 2nd Circuit and as a member of the Florida Public Defender Association, Andy fights not only for resources and budgetary stability, but for criminal justice reform that will shape our future and enhance the lives of our clients and all residents of the 2nd Circuit.

Andy has almost four decades of experience in criminal defense and administration. He has been a defense lawyer in juvenile, misdemeanor, felony, intake, specialty, capital, capital post-conviction, death warrants, capital and non-capital appeals, and has served in every county in this circuit.

He was in private practice for 10 years, representing clients in criminal, domestic, civil, dependency, estates and trusts and all manner of cases. Andy has served in administration for the last 20 years. He has been intensely involved in budgeting and planning for the past three years and been undeniably successful at it.

Especially in these uncertain times, with budget shortfalls and funding challenges facing the office, the public defender needs and requires stability, experience and calm. Andy Thomas has the dedication and experience to lead in good times and in challenging times. He respectfully asks for your vote on Aug. 18 (or vote by mail!).