Expect Carlos Martinez to find more efficient ways to operate and seek higher salaries for his employees as he embarks on a second term as Miami-Dade public defender.
Another surprise or two about his personal fitness also may be in the works.
“I’m actually running my first half-marathon this Saturday. It’s a big personal challenge,” said Martinez, who is maintaining a trimmer self after losing more than 100 pounds.
The 53-year-old automatically won his first re-election when qualifying for office ended April 20 with no one filing to oppose him. He also had no opposition in his inaugural 2008 bid.
“It’s not a glamorous job,” he said about not drawing political rivals. “It’s not viewed as a stepping stone.”
His first year as public defender came with a $4 million cut to office operations courtesy of state legislators.
Looking back, he said, “The best thing for us is that we’ve been able to survive their budget cuts. And we’re still able to attract high-quality lawyers.”
But assistant public defenders aren’t staying on the job as long, he acknowledged. The average tenure used to be six years.
“Now I get to keep them two-and-a-half, three-and-a-half years. That’s a big challenge,” he said. “And there’s no help in sight.”
Adding to the drain on experience is the planned retirements of older, Baby Boomer prosecutors, he said.
“The experience level we have not been able to retain,” Martinez said.
Despite the tight budgets, the nation’s first elected Hispanic public defender has been able to create a felony intake unit that sends an assistant defender to arrests rather than waiting for arraignments.
“That’s been a big, positive change in terms of quality of representation,” he said.
The office also is video-conferencing with its jailed clients to cut travel time for defenders and deposing police via Skype.
“It keeps the officers out on the street rather than driving to and from depositions,” Martinez said.
He worries about resentencing cases under the recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion banning life-without-parole sentences for juveniles convicted of homicide.
“They easily take up as much time as a capital case. I am going to need staff for that,” he said.
In addition to seeking 3.5 percent cost-of-living raises for his employees, Martinez said he plans to lobby to have misdemeanor charges punished by community service instead of court costs and fees.
He is waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to issue its ruling on his office’s complaints of unconstitutionally heavy caseloads and a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the use of drug-sniffing dogs by Miami-Dade police.
Martinez is thankful for the pro bono work by Hogan Lovells in Miami on the caseload appeal, which he estimated was worth $1 million in billable hours, and for a successful effort by Baker & McKenzie to stop the state from selling the records of juvenile offenders.
Not all his changes have been easy, particularly his re-institution of an office dress code in 2009.
“It was controversial at first. The challenge we have is we want to be taken as professionals, and part of that is looking professional,” Martinez said, noting the office still has casual Fridays.
Among his memorable victories was reversing the rule on shackling juveniles for court appearances.
“Now there is a presumption that a kid will not be shackled in court,” he said. “That was a huge win.”
Martinez was sworn in to his second term Tuesday at a ceremony attended by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston and dozens of other judges, county and city officials, legislators and bar officers.
In 2008 he succeeded Bennett Brummer after being an assistant for almost 20 years, 12 of them in management. His first full-time assistant public defender job was in Bellingham, Washington.
Martinez’s new health regimen — he dropped from a 52-inch waistline to a 38 — inspired others in his office.
“A lot of people here are losing weight, too,” he said. “So healthier, lighter” are goals for 2013.