The two candidates for state attorney of the Florida Keys’ 16th Judicial Circuit haven’t minced words when speaking of their opponents.

Incumbent Republican Dennis Ward has stated at a public forum that he “made a mistake” when he hired Donald Barrett as his chief assistant state attorney a few years back.

Barrett, a Democrat who is currently in private practice with his own law firm, now wants his former boss’ job.

Barrett said in an equally public forum that when he first joined the state attorney’s office, it was immediately clear that “Mr. Ward was in over his head as state attorney.”

The two have traded barbs at each candidate forum, making the state attorney’s race one of the most prickly in Florida Keys politics.

The Keys Weekly asked both candidates to answer the two questions below. Their responses are printed as received.

1.) There has been an increase in crimes committed with guns in Monroe County. Which gun control initiative(s) has/have merit? Which do(es) not?

2.) If elected, what are your top two priorities for the first 60 days in office?

Dennis Ward
Political party: Republican
Current job: State attorney, Monroe County

1) I believe the recently enacted bump-fire stock initiative has merit and my office is presently prosecuting violations of this law. Florida law prohibits possessing or transferring any device which increases a firearm’s rate of fire and my office will seek appropriate sanctions for violators. I also believe comprehensive background checks continue to have merit in keeping unauthorized individuals from purchasing firearms and believe these checks should also be in place to close the gun show loophole. I do not believe a comprehensive assault weapons ban has merit since it has not been shown to decrease firearms-related crimes.

2) My top priority is to continue the successful policies enacted during my current term which have contributed to a 30% decrease and a 25-year low in the number of violent crimes in our communities. I will also continue to seek harsh penalties for violent crimes, crimes against women, natural resource violations, illegal contractors and public corruption. My equally important second priority will be to continue to protect crime victims from unreasonable inquiries into their private matters by overreaching defense attorneys who seek to violate victims’ rights and have a chilling effect on reporting of domestic abuse and other cases.

Donald C. Barrett  
Political party: Democrat 
Current Job: attorney, Donald C. Barrett, P.A.  

1) The violent crime rate is up in Monroe County over the last three years. As State Attorney, I will focus on prosecuting violent crimes, including crimes involving weapons. I would start by enforcing existing laws. There was a recent incident where a young man walked through Key West – by two schools – while openly carrying what appeared to be a semi-automatic firearm and a fishing rod. In reality, this “fishing trip” was nothing more than a stunt that he live-streamed on social media, causing serious concern for parents. The State Attorney  declined to prosecute, despite a Florida statute prohibiting such conduct.  

2) I will immediately provide the leadership, vision and oversight that has been missing at the State Attorney’s office. I will instill a culture of ethics and professionalism. The State Attorney’s Office will safely reopen to the public. We will review the merits of pending cases and work toward clearing the backlog. I will eliminate blanket policies, and I will make sure resources are being best-used to prosecute violent crime and career criminals. I will form a conviction integrity unit to review convictions obtained by the current State Attorney due to the suspension of his major-crimes prosecutor by the Florida Bar.

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