JOHN TORRACO, Democrat
BIRTHPLACE: Westwood, N.J.
FAMILY: I am grateful that I was raised by parents who instilled a strong work ethic, morality, and fiscal responsibility — they also taught me that there is no higher calling than serving the public good. My mother has been a nurse and hospital chaplain for more than 50 years, while my father has been a certified public accountant for more than 50 years. I have three siblings. Not married, no children.
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a minor in accounting; law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
PROFESSIONAL CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Serving a president of the United States, the United States Department of Justice, two United States judges, and being selected to a program with United States Supreme Court Justice Kennedy.
FUN FACT: I drive a pickup truck with 347,000 miles on it.
What specific attributes do you bring to this office that make you the best candidate to lead the state attorney’s office?
My work ethic, independence and integrity are all attributes I will bring to this position. My allegiance is to the law, the Florida Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. I will honor the responsibility of this position, which is to seek true justice, as I am beholden only to the people of Sarasota, Manatee and Desoto counties that I may have the privilege to represent. I was appointed to serve in the White House Office of Legal Counsel; United States Department of Justice; and as a law clerk to two federal judges. Having worked outside the Florida state courts and in the federal courts, I am the only candidate who has the firsthand experience to compare and contrast the most effective, efficient and ethical prosecutions with ones that are not. My actions as state attorney will end government waste and bring true accountability and efficiency to the state attorney’s office.
Please describe how you would focus your time as the top executive of an operation with 170 employees and a $9.5 million annual budget?
Create a positive work environment that reduces the current high rate of costly prosecutor turnover. Provide all prosecutors with the support to allow them the autonomy to make independent case decisions. Begin a true open-door policy with opposing counsel to facilitate just and expeditious case resolution that would dramatically reduce taxpayers’ expense. The office will start conducting evaluations for all employees on a semiannual basis that will be posted online. Further, with offices encompassing the large geographical areas of Sarasota, Manatee and Desoto counties, it is crucial that the offices be technologically current, connected and integrated. Implementation of inexpensive, modern and readily available technologies will not only be cost effective and save money, but will eliminate critical errors that have been especially costly to crime victims and have reduced the overall public safety.
If elected, how would you change, if at all, the allocation of the state attorney’s annual budget and personnel?
Roughly a dozen employees make up 20% of the $8.5 million salary budget. Further, these dozen employees are not assigned a criminal case load, nor do they regularly appear in court and try criminal cases. This is not an acceptable use of taxpayers’ money. If elected, these employees, as well as myself, will be assigned our own caseload and will regularly try criminal cases. In addition, the first budget cut will start with my position — I will eliminate the current $38,000 annual state attorney automobile expenditure. The state attorney’s office will have the same accountability and efficiency as a private-sector law firm. The people, voters and taxpayers of Sarasota, Manatee and Desoto counties will get the maximum value for their hard-earned money.
If elected, what will you make the top priorities of the state attorney’s office?
Foremost, we must drastically improve the current conviction rate in the state attorney’s office, which is among the lowest in the state of Florida. The state attorney’s office must regain the trust and faith of the people of Sarasota, Manatee and Desoto counties that it serves through transparency and efficiency. We need to increase prosecutorial focus on violent crimes in order to enhance public safety, while reducing the costly recidivism rate and eliminating the waste of taxpayers’ money. All budgetary expenditures will be transparent and posted online. All prosecutors and staff will be held to the highest ethical and professional standards. We will efficiently seek prompt adjudication through enhanced training, mentoring and in-court supervision.
What do you believe is the best approach for prosecuting individuals arrested for possession and use of illegal drugs?
People who possess drugs for the sole purpose of distribution and trafficking must be punished accordingly. On the other hand, people who have a substance-abuse issue and who are non-violent offenders must be dealt with in an effective and cost-efficient manner. The incarceration-only approach to substance abuse is neither effective nor cost efficient. The use of drug courts, which are currently grossly underutilized, and pre-existing alternatives must be maximized. These alternatives are not suitable for every person, but neither is jail and prison.
How would you describe the proper relationship between the region’s law-enforcement departments and the state attorney’s office?
The relationship would be one of professional boundaries, mutual respect and above all, objectivity and independence. We must maintain consistent channels of communication; however currying favor with law-enforcement agencies can only serve to diminish independence and objectivity in the state attorney’s office, which would create an environment of conflicting interests and injustice.
What is your philosophy toward seeking plea bargains or going to trial?
Plea bargains are a necessary part of the criminal-justice system. However, the current use of plea bargains as a tool to punish defendants for exercising their constitutional right to go to trial must end. All prosecutors will be well prepared to go to trial when scheduled and all cases will be ethically and effectively prosecuted, as well as evidence-driven.
What is your vision for the state attorney’s office?
For the taxpayers to have more cost efficiency, for all crime victims to have the greatest prosecution effectiveness and for the state attorney’s office for Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties to serve as the model for the rest of Florida.
Ancient Oaks Gun Club shoots for second annual United Way event
From 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 7, the Ancient Oaks Gun Club will house the second annual United Way Clay Shoot, hosted by Manatee County Government.
New restaurants bound for East County
The Ciccio Restaurant Group is opening a Daily Eats and Fresh Kitchen across from the Mall at UTC by the end of 2015.
County approves firm for Parks and Recreation study
For the first time in almost 10 years, Sarasota County is moving forward toward adopting a county-wide master plan for its parks and parks facilities.
UTC Saks GM takes new job
Saks Fifth Avenue Sarasota General Manager Joel Ellzey oversaw the luxury fashion retailer’s move from Westfield Southgate Mall to the Mall at University Town Center during his tenure.
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