Longtime Pinellas and Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe died Jan. 1 at age 73.
McCabe served as the two counties' top prosecutor for nearly 30 years.
First elected to his position in 1992, McCabe would hold the post unopposed for the next 28 years.
Sixth Judicial Court Circuit Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino on Jan. 2 appointed Chief Assistant Attorney Bruce L. Bartlett as interim state attorney, with a term that begins Jan. 5.
Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, paid tribute to his mentor after learning of McCabe's death.
"Our hearts are with Denise and the entire McCabe family at this difficult time," Sprowls tweeted Jan. 2. "Among prosecutors and law enforcement officers, Bernie McCabe was a towering, heroic figure. A true public servant, he led a life committed to justice, fairness and truth. Bernie was my mentor and my friend. I will miss him more than I can put into words, but I also know that I will carry the lessons I learned from him with me through all the days of my life."
During a legal career that spanned nearly five decades, McCabe was an esteemed jurist who oversaw several high-profile cases, including the trials of Lorenzo Jenkins, who was convicted in the stabbing deaths of the Sullivan family in 2012, and the Rev. Henry Lyons Jr., a former St. Petersburg pastor convicted of fraud and extortion in 1999.
A graduate of Stetson University in 1969 and later graduated cum laude with a degree of Juris Doctor, McCabe served as chief assistant state attorney, executive assistant state attorney, and division director in St. Petersburg and in Pasco County prior to his position of state attorney.
In 1999, he created the State Attorney Safe Schools Program, which placed prosecutors in middle schools to coordinate and divert youth from the justice system. Later in 2001, McCabe developed the a program wit the intent to reduce the number of youth being referred for criminal prosecution.
He has served as chairman of the Pinellas County Substance Abuse Advisory Board, an adjunct professor at Stetson College of Law, a member of the board of directors for Suncoast Family YMCA, and chairman of the Florida Violent Crime and Drug Control Council.
McCabe earned the respect of many Pasco and Pinellas officials, some of whom took the time to praise his life and accomplishments.
"I’m saddened about the passing of our longtime State Attorney Bernie McCabe," Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore wrote in a statement Jan. 2. "He was a dedicated public servant that cared deeply about our community. I have had the honor of serving on the Pasco County Public Safety Coordinating Council with him. I always appreciated the thoughtful input he would provide at our meetings."
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said McCabe's death will leave a gap that will be hard to fill.
"I am saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Bernie McCabe, the long-time State Attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pasco and Pinellas Counties," said Bilirakis. "Bernie leaves behind a legacy of service, integrity and commitment to public safety. His office has set the standard for prosecutors nationwide. His passing leaves a huge leadership gap in our law enforcement community."
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri praised McCabe for his commitment to local law enforcement.
"Bernie dedicated his life to public safety and he was a great partner to us here at the Sheriff’s Office and the other law enforcement agencies throughout the county, Gualtieri said.