MANATEE -- Ed Brodsky, R-Bradenton, and John Torraco, D-Sarasota, voiced their opposing views Wednesday as the two vie for the tri-county position of State Attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit.
Ed Brodsky, who defeated fellow Republican Peter Lombardo by 2,820 votes in the August primary, discussed the importance of education, training and experience in the position which oversees prosecutors in DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.
"I'm a 20-year veteran of the State Attorney's Office," Brodsky said, adding that he's worked his way up to chief assistant state attorney.
Torraco said he wants to bring improvements to the office and raise employee
"Based on my experience ... this system needs to be changed," Torraco said, citing low conviction rates and wasted tax dollars.
Brodsky questioned if Torraco is qualified to serve as an adviser to assistant state attorneys, console victims and their families and administer a large office.
"My opponent has never served in the capacity as a prosecutor," Brodsky said. "We serve everyone in the community, regardless of party affiliation, so there should be a strong interest in making sure the most qualified candidate is elected. He would have to learn the ropes. I'm ready to lead this office into the future starting day one."
Torraco said he has prosecuted civil cases, worked pro bono with domestic battery victims and has experience at the federal level. In addition, Torraco announced Wednesday that former state attorney for the 8th Judicial Circuit, Ron Smith, has endorsed him.
"Mr. Smith was one of the most accomplished and effective prosecutors Florida has ever seen, despite never being a prosecutor prior to taking office," Torraco said.
The candidates sparred over convictions rates and creating "hot lists" of criminals at a forum hosted by the Bradenton Herald and METV.
Torraco said the 12th Judicial Circuit has a 57 percent trial conviction rate and believes citizens "deserve more than winning every other trial."
Brodsky said those numbers do not include guilty pleas. He said the office's trial conviction rate sits at 76 percent.
By creating "hot lists" of habitual offenders and career criminals, Brodsky said efforts are needed to prevent recidivism of the 6 percent of the population that commits 60 percent of the crime.
"I'm going to do everything I can to make sure we provide a strong quality of life to our citizens," Brodsky said, adding that he would work with organizations focused on at-risk teenagers.
Torraco questioned Brodsky's 6 percent/60 percent statistic, stating the results come from a 1945 study done in Philadelphia, using cohort studies from the United Kingdom and Australia.
"What we need to do is get back to the truth," Torraco said. "The State Attorney's Office needs accurate data and up-to-date information."
After the forum, Brodsky said the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office and other agencies use the 6 percent/60 percent model.
"The bottom line is there is a small number of people committing crimes in the community," Brodsky said. "We need to identify those chronically offending and aggressively prosecute them."
Brodsky said he would continue to focus on gang racketeering charges. Torraco said racketeering can be difficult to prove and that gang members could be more effectively and efficiently prosecuted on conspiracy charges.
Both said they would implement specialized areas to prosecute white collar crimes including exploitation of the elderly and mortgage fraud. Torraco spoke specifically about lack of public corruption investigations.
The two also debated their differences on relationships between the State Attorney's Office and law enforcement. Torraco said there should be mutual respect, but each should operate independently. Brodsky said the two work closely together to ensure strong cases are built against criminals. Brodsky has been endorsed by local law enforcement leaders as well as outgoing State Attorney Earl Moreland.
Both men emphasized the need for community outreach and are attending various events to share their messages with voters.
Brodsky has a financial contribution advantage, though much of that was spent during his primary election campaign, during which Lombardo's finances were questioned and Brodsky's litigation history was attacked. Brodsky, who filed to run in January 2011, has raised $130,639. Almost $25,000 was raised from Aug. 10 to Sept. 14.
Torraco's contributions total $32,585, with more than $14,500 being donated since Aug. 10. He filed to run on April 17, just days before the qualification period ended.
The forums will be broadcast and available online as the Nov. 6 election approaches.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.