Things get raucous at state attorney debate

By Carrie Wells, Herald-Tribune

Thursday, July 19, 2012

SARASOTA – Members of the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club — the powerful, the connected, the politically savvy — probably expected a few sparks to fly when they hosted a debate between candidates for the State Attorney’s Office.

But not like this.

The State Attorney’s Office race was chugging along in a typically boring fashion until Tuesday, when attack ads slamming candidate Ed Brodsky hit the airways.

Ed Brodsky, the assistant state attorney backed by the current state attorney and the local Republican Party establishment, had been expected to slide easily into victory.

Brodsky and his supporters are now accusing Gary Kompothecras, owner of the 1-800-ASK-GARY lawyer referral service, of secretly funneling at least $100,000 into the campaign of Brodsky’s opponent, Peter Lombardo, and paying for the ads. Kompothecras is currently traveling and unavailable for comment.

Organizers at the Tiger Bay Club debate on Thursday probably should have provided popcorn, as Lombardo and Brodsky traded verbal jabs with such ferocity it felt like watching a boxing match. At times, members of the crowd laughed, cheered and shook their heads in disbelief.

At one point, as Brodsky was trying to pin Lombardo on his ties to Kompothecras — which Lombardo denies — Brodsky noted that Kompothecras’ headquarters sports a pro-Lombardo sign.

Lombardo scoffed. "And you have a sign in front of a crack house on 14th Street in Bradenton, does that mean you’re endorsing crackheads?" Lombardo retorted.

Before this week, few people even knew who the candidates for state attorney were — Brodsky, the chief assistant state attorney; Lombardo, a Bradenton attorney; and John Torraco, a law professor. Brodsky and Lombardo are Republicans and Torraco is a Democrat.

Earl Moreland, the current state attorney, is retiring after 24 years. The 12th Judicial Circuit includes Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties.

Overshadowed by the vitriol were questions about how to best run the State Attorney’s Office, which handles more than 40,000 prosecutions a year. A primary point of Lombardo’s was that the office neglects gang and white-collar crime prosecutions.

Brodsky had the support of Kompothecras until Brodsky claims the State Attorney’s Office refused to criminally charge a former Kompothecras employee for alleged trade-secret theft. Brodsky says Kompothecras was angry enough about that decision to throw his financial weight behind Lombardo.

At the debate, Lombardo struggled to explain his appearance in ads funded by a political committee that recently received a $100,000 cash infusion from one of Kompothecras’ companies.

Lombardo said that pictures of him in the ad could have been pulled from Facebook, and that his campaign manager may have filmed him a long time ago and handed that video over to the political committee without his knowledge. That drew laughter from the crowd.

No-nonsense debate monitor and Circuit Judge Nancy Donnellan also pressed Lombardo on his ties to Kompothecras. Lombardo said he may have met Kompothecras once or twice in the past, and had lunch with one of his employees.

Under pressure, Lombardo said to Brodsky: "I have not met with him nearly as many times as you have!" But Lombardo got in some jabs at Brodsky when he called him out on a 1996 decision to switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

Brodsky said he registered as a Democrat because of "the uh, the uh, dissatisfaction with the president at the time."

Democrat Bill Clinton was president in 1996. Brodsky apparently switched back to the Republican Party in 2006.

Torraco, the Democratic candidate for state attorney, knew he was not to be the star of the show at the largely Republican club. At one point, when Torraco was referencing an event in 2009, Brodsky jumped in.

"Nobody even knew you in 2009," Brodsky said to Torraco.

Torraco joined Lombardo in criticizing Brodsky over the case of Derrick Williams, who was in prison for 18 years after being convicted of rape, but was set free last year after being cleared by DNA evidence. Prosecutors should have been quicker to release Williams upon reviewing the DNA evidence, they argued.

After the debate, various Tiger Bay members came up to moderator Donnellan and praised her for handling the difficult task.

Of Lombardo’s ties to Kompothecras, Donnellan said: "he should have been more forthcoming."

But, she could not hold back a grin. "That was fun," Donnellan said.

ask gary, earl moreland, ed brodsky, gary kompothecras, Peter Lombardo, state attorney sarasota

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