The event was set up as a festive ceremony to swear in six of Pinellas County’s constitutional officers.
But amid the laughter, hugs and cheers, there were some serious moments.
One came just after Pinellas-Pasco public defender Bob Dillinger was sworn in by Anthony Rondolino, chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit.
In a voice choked with emotion, Dillinger announced that this would be his “last term as public defender for the Sixth Judicial Circuit.”
Dillinger did not offer reasons for his decision, saying, “It’s an honor to have served.”
He also offered his hopes that people who are powerless, poor and forgotten would be remembered and would receive “liberty and justice for all.”
Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe praised Dillinger, saying, “We genuinely get along. … We collaborate together. We have a collegial atmosphere…That’s something you don’t find everywhere else.”
Another solemn moment came when Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark was sworn in. In a teary voice, Clark remembered Judge Pat Caddell, who died in 2014. Caddell had chaired the Pinellas County Canvassing Board in every election for 22 years.
“Pat was my close friend and mentor, I miss him every day,” Clark said.
For the most part, the rest of the evening was full of joking and laughter.
Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala swore in Clerk of Court Ken Burke.
“I’ve sworn at him,” Latvala said. “I guess he thought it appropriate that I swear him in.”
Rondolino, who also swore in McCabe, joked as McCabe put his hand on the Bible and raised his right hand: “I’ve been waiting 40 years to get him under oath.”
Dillinger is a native Floridian who moved to Pinellas County in 1973. He has an undergraduate degree from Columbia University (1973) and a juris doctor degree from Stetson College of Law (1976).
He served as assistant public defender from 1976 to 1981 when he left for private practice. He was elected public defender and has served in that position ever since.