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Pinellas top lawyers, Bob Dillinger and Bernie McCabe, running for re-election in 2016 with eyes on mental health issues

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Pinellas’ top lawyers, Bob Dillinger and Bernie McCabe, want four more years.

Dillinger, 65, has been the public defender for Pinellas and Pasco counties since ’96. McCabe, 67, has represented the same area — Florida’s Sixth Judicial Circuit — as the state attorney since ’92. They’ll be running for their sixth and seventh consecutive terms, respectively.

Saint PetersBlog recently spoke with each candidate, and atop both of their future to-do lists, should they get re-elected, were mental health related issues.

“I really want to get involved in this Baker Act,” said Dillinger over the phone.

The Baker Act, more formally known as the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, allows for an individual to be involuntarily institutionalized and examined. It can be initiated by judges, law enforcement officials, physicians, or mental health professionals, so long as the individual being institutionalized “possibly” has a mental illness, and is deemed a harm to themselves or others.

Dillinger’s beef is with the limited amount of access public defenders have to institutionalized juveniles and to medical records under the Baker Act. As the law is written now, neither are initially accessible to public defenders, making it virtually impossible for attorneys to determine whether or not an individual’s three-day-long forced institutionalization was legally warranted.

“I want to see if they’ll [lawmakers] write a bill that let’s me have access to minors’ records,” concluded Dillinger, who also said he’d like to work on getting better pay for public defenders and state attorneys as well.

“Public defenders and state attorneys are the lowest paid attorneys in the state of Florida,” said Dillinger.

McCabe’s attention was turned toward his office’s Veterans Treatment Court, a supervised, comprehensive treatment court for nonviolent misdemeanor or felony defendants serving, or who have served, in the armed services.

“This last term we started veterans court,” said McCabe. “I’d like to see that follow through.”

The Veterans Treatment Court, according to the Sixth Judicial Circuit’s state attorney’s website, diverts offenders from jail, while providing help to overcome service-related substance abuse and mental health problems.

“We still have an awful lot of veterans who have been impacted by the Gulf wars,” said McCabe in closing.

So far, neither candidate has filed paperwork with the Division of Elections. Neither has any competition either, as of now. Though Dillinger did make it quite clear before his interview concluded that this would be his final bid for re-election.

“There comes a time when new blood needs to come in,” Dillinger said. “You can overstay your welcome.”

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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