Barrett to challenge Ward in 2020 – Two seek state attorney post

Barrett to challenge Ward in 2020 – Two seek state attorney post - A man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera - Florida

In 2009-2010, attorney Don Barrett served as chief assistant state attorney under Dennis Ward, who is the current Monroe County state attorney, and who also held the position from 2008 to 2012. Barrett has filed paperwork with the state to challenge Ward for the job in 2020.

“The office needs a strong leader with a great deal of varied experience” Barrett said. “I’ve been practicing for 23 years — about half that as a prosecutor and the other half as a defense attorney. I have a wide perspective on all the issues.”

Barrett said if elected, the office will focus more on prosecuting violent crimes and crimes against persons, especially those who are most vulnerable, and less on marine violations. “I don’t mean the serious trap-robbing cases, but the cases of when a tourist comes here and catches an undersized fish because they don’t know the rules,” Barrett said. 

He also wants to address addiction.

“In my 20 years, I feel like the majority of cases that come through are rooted in either mental health issues or addiction issues, whether that’s drugs or alcohol. In cases where it’s a victimless crime, and the real issue is drug addiction, I think the state attorney and other players in the justice system should address the root, rather than warehousing people in jails,” Barrett said, a Democrat. 


Ward has said that he plans to file his re-election paperwork in the new year. If elected, it would be his third term. His focus this term, he said, has been school safety and protecting natural resources. 

“Right after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, I contacted former Key West Police Chief Donie Lee and Sheriff Rick Ramsay,” he said. “I said ‘We need to get together with the school district and look at the security of our schools.’” Ward, a Republican, said he served on a task force that improved camera coverage, classroom modifications, safe spaces and drills.

Ward said he’s proud of his record prosecuting natural resource violations whether it’s undersized lobster or fish and stone crab violations. 

“Before, everything was just a slap on the wrist,” Ward said. “Now, if you have three lobster over the limit, our plea offer is going to include jail time.”

Barrett graduated from Stetson University College of Law in 1996 and moved to the Keys the first time in 2001. In 2014, Barrett challenged Circuit Judge Mark Jones and was defeated. 

Ward is a Marine Corps veteran and was a Miami Beach police officer for decades before becoming an attorney. He was elected state attorney in 2008, lost to Catherine Vogel in 2012, and was re-elected in 2016. 

Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.