After 16 years as state attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit in Florida, Bill Eddins will not seek a fifth term in office this year.
The 73-year-old Eddins makes one thing very clear.
“I still love my work; I’m healthy, I feel like I could continue to do it, but after 16 years it’s a very difficult job and I feel that this is an appropriate time for me to turn over the reins to someone else.”
Eddins, who succeeded Curtis Golden in 2005 when Golden ended his 36-year tenure, says the decision to step down comes after a “very careful, detailed evaluation,” of whether or not to run for another term. Part of that involves the decision by Greg Marcille – Eddins’ chief assistant for his entire tenure – to seek the office.
“When he indicated that he would run, that helped me make a decision to decide not to seek reelection,” said Eddins. “And if elected, believe that he will make an excellent state attorney.”
That said, Eddins concedes that whoever takes the reins will be up to the voters in the circuit – which encompasses Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.
“I believe, based on his work, [Marcille] will have the support of law enforcement, and the people in the criminal justice system,” Eddins said. “But it’s up to the people of the 1st Circuit to make that decision.”
When Eddins ascended to the post, he says Curtis Golden left the office stable and very professional, with very effective career prosecutors. He credits Greg Marcille with helping him maintain that standard over the past 15 years. That in turn has led to the office’s expansion in areas such as child protection.
“We have special prosecutors in every county that works in the Child Advocacy Centers; as a result, every child who is a victim of sexual or physical battery in the 1st Circuit is prosecuted by an experienced special prosecutor who specializes in those kind of cases.”
Other expansions include turning the homicide division into a homicide\special prosecution division, which now handles many types of cases.
“Some of those types include DUI-Manslaughter; we gave only experienced lawyers that have been highly trained to prosecute those cases,” said Eddins. “In addition to that, child pornography or sexual offenders that fail to register, or adults that travel to meet children to have sex. So I’m very proud of that as well.”
Among the 20 state attorneys offices in Florida, Eddins says his circuit has been at or near the top in the conviction rate for felony offenses – either first, second, or third. But he adds there’s another side of it – not everybody needs to be locked up.
“We’ve also started or expanded specialty courts; we’ve expanded drug court, we started veteran courts and we started mental health courts,” Eddins said. “And I believe that enables the justice system to provide specialized help and support to people with those specialized needs.”
Under Bill Eddins, the state attorney’s office has prosecuted thousands of crimes, and a few stand out in his memory. One of the highest-profile cases was the murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings in 2009 – a couple raising about a dozen special-needs children.
“As a result of that case and the fact that that case was handled so effectively, it established me as a solid state attorney – so that was a very important case,” said Eddins. “There have been thousands of cases and that’s what I’ve enjoyed. I’ve enjoyed working with young lawyers on trial tactics and strategy; it’s been an incredible experience.”
A total of eight people were convicted for planning and participating in the Billings murders and related crimes. One – Leonard Gonzalez Jr. – was given two death sentences.
Bill Eddins has about a year to serve in his final term and for now, is concentrating on the tasks at hand. All else is on hold until after he leaves office and wraps up his 46-year legal career.
“I’ve told my staff – and I’ve used some stories to get my point across and some experiences in my lifetime,” said Eddins. “I’m going to be the strongest state attorney I can be until the last day I’m in office. Once that’s over with, then I’ll talk about what I’m going to do. I want my full, undivided attention given to this office.”
Greg Marcille filed as a candidate for state attorney last week. He tells the Pensacola News Journal that if elected, he would follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, and his predecessor’s predecessor.