The State Attorney for the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Florida, Bernie McCabe, died on January 1, 2021. Although he was experiencing some health issues, his passing was a surprise to many. Bernie and I have known each other for over 50 years. In 1969, we started as freshmen at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. We were in our early 20s and full of excitement about our newly chosen profession. After graduation, we both fulfilled our obligations in branch training in the Army. We were both second lieutenants after graduating from the ROTC program in our college. Upon our return, we both joined the Office of the State Attorney for Pinellas and Pasco counties, then occupied by Jim Russell. There was very little training back then. We were thrown into trying felonies in the first six months. We both remember Circuit Judge B.J. Driver calling the office and wanting an Assistant State Attorney to come down and try a case that was on the calendar for that day. Some cases had gotten double booked and he wanted both tried the same day. We would grab the file, read the case synopsis and appear before the Judge. Judge Driver would then say, “we will begin voir dire in 10 minutes.” It was hardly enough time to check to see if our witnesses were present and gather our thoughts about the upcoming opening statement. We learned quickly. Trial by fire. We were in it together.
I left to go into private practice after prosecuting for 3 1/2 years. I have been in private practice doing criminal defense ever since 1975. Bernie went on to run for State Attorney after Jim Russell retired and was elected in 1992. He stayed in the office until his passing. Our friendship continued as most of my cases were prosecuted by his office. I did not ask to see him often about cases but when I did, he always found time to meet with me and listen to what I had to say. He did not always agree but he always gave me a reason when he did not. I found him to be hardworking, fair, and honest. There were times when he could have easily taken advantage of defendants who had no defense but he never allowed that to happen. In more than one way, Bernie’s replacement has some pretty big shoes to fill. It is my hope that his legacy will be remembered as a total dedication to the people who lived in the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Florida. They were well served.