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State Attorney Candidate Face Off: Brannon v Siegmeister. Different styles, different experience

Bill Brannon (on right) makes his introduction as Mr. Siegmeister collects his thoughts.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – This past Friday afternoon, October 19, 2012, the two candidates for State Attorney, Third Judicial District, Bill Brannon and Jeff Siegmeister, met in Columbia County’s Courtroom One for one hour to present themselves and answer questions prepared by the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The candidates played to a packed house and the audience of over 100 overflowed up into the balcony. The State Attorney’s Office is responsible for a $4,000,000 plus budget and 65 jobs. Many people in the audience were State Attorney Office employees. Some were job seekers. The Circuit’s Assistant State Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the State Attorney.

Moderator Mike McKee (right) listens to the candidates during their introductions.

Opening statement, Bill Brannon
(Audio: Q 01a)

Mr. Brannon introduced himself. He said he had worked with many of the people in the audience while practicing law in the circuit over the years, practicing criminal and civil law. He explained that he is a CPA and his current position with the State Attorney’s office is that of Executive Director, where he is responsible for the budget and financial matters of the office.

Opening statement, Jeff Siegmeister
(Audio: Q 01b)

Mr. Siegmeister introduced himself. He said he’s been working to get the State Attorney job for sixteen months. He said he began working in the State Attorney’s Office 19 years ago and he grew up in the court system and has spent 20 years, his entire professional career, in criminal law. He explained that he has worked for all the legal agencies in the Third Circuit. He said he is willing to accept the challenge of who should go to prison and who shouldn’t.

Question 01: Is this a race between an administrator and a trial attorney and which role is more important?
(Audio: Q 01c | Mr. Brannon answers first; then Mr. Siegmeister)

Bill Brannon

Mr. Brannon explained that he has worked for the Public Defender’s Office and presently works at the State Attorney’s Office. He said the role of the State Attorney is to manage and administrate a large law firm.

Mr. Siegmeister said he is more a trial attorney than an administrator. He said leadership from the State Attorney sets the policies and that comes from experience.

Q 02:  What are the problems in the State Attorney’s Office? (Audio: Q 02 | Mr. Siegmeister answers first)

Mr. Siegmeister said the most pressing problem is the lack of leadership. He said he would reinstate the special prosecution unit and that would be his first priority.

Mr. Brannon said while out campaigning he learned that some folks believe that the lines of communication are not as open and effective as they should be.

Q 03:  Would you expand pretrial intervention programs?
(Audio: Q 03 | Mr. Brannon answers first)

Mr. Brannon said every case stands on its own and he would encourage the use of the programs.

Mr. Siegmeister said the programs would be expanded. He said sometimes we create the criminals by the law we have.

Question 04:  Seeking the death penalty - have factors seeking the death penalty been properly considered?
(Audio: Q 04 | Mr. Siegmeister answers first)

Jeff Siegmeister

Mr. Siegmeister said he did not think the factors have been properly considered. He said if we are going to have a death penalty, we have to seek it.

Mr. Brannon said the death penalty is the law in Florida and it is available if the case and the circumstances are appropriate; there are a number of things that have to be considered. He said he would consult with his staff and the victim's family.

Q 05:  What is your opinion of the conviction rate at trial in the circuit? How do you plan to improve it?
(Audio: Q 05 | Mr. Brannon answers first)

Mr. Brannon said he wasn’t sure what the conviction rate was. He said if elected it is something that would have to be looked at. He said you have to make sure that the appropriate cases are the ones that are going to trial. He said that the priority of the State Attorney’s Office and the prosecutor are to seek justice, not necessarily winning every case.

24 year veteran Public Defender, Dennis Roberts, listens to the candidates.

Mr. Siegmeister said the conviction rate is unacceptable, but sometimes it matters how you count them. He said the appearance is we lose more than we should. Mr. Siegmeister said he plans to be responsible for the charging decisions and the priorities of the office.

Q 06: Are Assistant State Attorneys being sufficiently trained and supervised?
(Audio: Q 06 | Mr. Siegmeister answers first)

Mr. Siegmeister said that he couldn’t fairly answer the question, but he thought it was no. He said he was not invited into staff meetings. He thought there were things that could be done better.

Mr. Brannon said that if there are areas that need improvement he is willing to work with everyone to make those improvements.

Q 07:  Will you limit the prosecutorial discretion of assistant state attorneys?

(Audio: Q 07 | Mr. Brannon answers first)

Mr. Brannon said this is something that should be continually looked at to make sure that the right charging decisions are made. He said you need a staff of trustworthy assistant attorney’s and those decisions should be left to them.

Mr. Siegmeister said you need experienced people that make good common sense decisions. Mr. Siegmeister said there should be a one page policy manual that tries to accommodate the victims and law enforcement.

Q 08:  Is there a need for repealing old laws? Do you have new laws in which you are in favor?
(Audio: Q 08 | Mr. Siegmeister answers first)

Mr. Siegmeister said there are laws that need repealing and there are absolutely no new laws that he can think of. You can put people away with the laws we have.

Mr. Brannon said there are no laws that he would change. He said the legislature makes the laws and mentioned accidents caused when talking on a cell phone.

Q 09:  What is your position on minimum mandatory sentencing?
(Audio: Q 09 | Mr. Brannon answers first)

Mr. Brannon said the minimum mandatory laws are there to be used when they are needed, but there is some flexibility to work around that.

Mr. Siegmeister said he didn’t think there was necessarily a problem. He said he had a problem with minimum mandatory in pill cases.

Q 10:  The State Attorney’s Office has a policy in which it doesn’t allow a first time felon to maintain his civil rights. Do you agree?
(Audio: Q 10 | Mr. Siegmeister answers first)

Mr. Siegmeister said the policy is insane and he would change it immediately.

Mr. Brannon said he would change the policy.

Q 11:  What relationship do you feel the State Attorney’s Office should have with victims of crimes and law enforcement? Who should have ultimate authority in accepting pleas?
(Audio: Q 11 | Mr. Brannon answers first)

Mr. Brannon said the State Attorney’s Office has victim advocates.

Mr. Siegmeister said the Assistant State Attorney, ultimately responsible to the State Attorney should be the decider. He said every case is different.

Q 12:  What would you bring to the Office of State Attorney that your opponent would not?
(Audio: Q 12 | Mr. Siegmeister answers first)

Mr. Siegmeister said he was a prosecutor and has made charging decisions. He said he had defended death cases. He said liberty is a valuable thing and he has come to love the constitution. He said he would bring twenty years of criminal law experience. He said he has done every facet of the State Attorney’s job except sit in the State Attorney’s chair.

Mr. Brannon said he has 30 years experience in civil and criminal law. He said his job as Executive Director of the State Attorney’s Office has made him knowledgeable on the operation of the office. He said the State Attorney has to manage a law firm of 25 attorneys and requires someone with management skills. He said the elected State Attorney has to be a leader and a manager.

Q 13 a & b:  Closing statements
(Audio: Q 13a | Q 13b)

Mr. Siegmeister said he is seeking the position, not to see his name on the door, but because he believes in public safety and that at this time he doesn’t believe that the administration of justice in the Third Circuit is proper.

Mr. Brannon said he was honored to be placed on the ballot and those who nominated him had confidence in his ability and judgment to serve as the State Attorney.


This may be the most important vote you can make in this election cycle. Listen to the candidates and be the judge of these two men. Men who may one day be deciding the course of the rest of your life or the life of a family member or friend.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On October 24, DD from Lake City wrote:

Thank you for a very clear, unbiased report.  This information was a big help to me as I was unable to attend the meeting.  I now know who I want to vote for.
                                                                                                Please sign me DD.


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