From the October 24, 2012 edition of the Tallahassee Democrat:
State attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit is one of the most powerful elected positions in the Panhandle. For 27 years, Willie Meggs has been at the helm, directing an army of attorneys who determine who gets prosecuted, from misdemeanors to white-collar crimes to capital cases.
Mr. Meggs, 69, is running for an eighth term. He prides himself on being tough on Tallahassee’s gang members and drug dealers and says his prosecution helps maintain the quality of life this community enjoys.
Challenging Mr. Meggs is Pete Williams, a 60-year-old attorney who has an extensive background in the criminal-justice system. Mr. Williams, a Republican, is challenging the veteran Democratic incumbent with a campaign that promises new leadership, new ideas and a new philosophy in the office.
We endorse Mr. Williams, believing he’s the right person at the right time to bring fresh ideas.
Mr. Meggs has served well. But along the way, he has shown that he has trouble seeing conflicts of interests, that he’s too heavily influenced by personal beliefs and that he’s less than enthusiastic about embracing alternatives to incarceration.
Mr. Williams wants to change the perception that prosecutorial decisions are based on “who you are and who you know.”
Mr. Williams has strong credentials. He was an assistant state attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit. He later joined then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth’s office, focusing on antitrust and economic crimes.
He’s directed the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, and was appointed by then-Attorney General Charlie Crist as Florida’s statewide prosecutor for one term.
He’s also been inspector general for the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Education.
As state attorney, Mr. Williams says he will improve the office’s conviction rate by being more discriminating in what cases to prosecute. He also wants to put more emphasis on alternatives to prison, bring quicker resolution to cases, institute better training for staff and bring more racial diversity to the office.
He promises to erase the perception that Mr. Meggs’ long tenure has distorted the prosecutor’s ability to recognize potential conflicts of interests and how that influences the public’s view of fair justice.
Mr. Meggs didn’t pursue criminal charges against the wife of a Leon County sheriff’s deputy who was involved in an accident that took the life of a 13-year-old. “All of us speed, all of us run red lights,” Mr. Meggs said. In 2009, Mr. Meggs declined to pursue alcohol-related charges against then-Wakulla County Sheriff David Harvey, who crashed a department-owned SUV into a parked car near his Wakulla County home and left the scene. Perhaps Mr. Meggs’ legal reasons were correct, but the perception of a conflict throws that into doubt.
Mr. Williams is a well-qualified candidate who can change that perception.