Deputy County Attorney Elbrecht wins unanimous board support as replacement for County Attorney DeMarsh

Chair Charles Hines authorized by board to help negotiate contract

County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh offers comments during a 2013 County Commission meeting. File photo

After a two-week delay, it took only about 5 minutes on Jan. 29 for the Sarasota County ommission to give unanimous approval to a motion calling for Deputy County Attorney Frederick J. “Rick” Elbrecht to be the new county attorney.

Commissioner Alan Maio repeated the motion he had made on Jan. 15, and Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it.

The last day of county employment for County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh will be March 31.

On a second unanimous vote — on a motion by Commissioner Nancy Detert, seconded by Commissioner Christian Ziegler — the board authorized Chair Charles Hines to participate in the negotiations on the contract for Elbrecht. It is customary, Hines pointed out, for the chair to be involved in that process.

On Jan. 15, after Hines brought up the issue of DeMarsh’s plans to step down from the position DeMarsh has held since Oct. 26, 2004, Maio first made his motion. However, Detert protested, saying she felt it was inappropriate to vote that day. For one thing, she pointed out, she had asked for the resumes of Elbrecht and Deputy County Attorney Karl Senkow, who also was applying for the position, and she had not received them.

Second, Detert said she felt it was unfair to hold a vote when such action was not listed on the meeting agenda.

As a result, the board members agreed to table the motion until Jan. 29.

When Hines raised the issue this week, he told his colleagues, “I know I’m personally satisfied with the information that I’ve received and reviewed and … the interviews and what’s been presented by Mr. DeMarsh.”

After Maio again made his motion and Moran seconded it, Detert referenced her Jan. 15 comments. Since then, she continued, she had met with both Elbrecht and Senkow. “I do understand,” she added, that in the matter of choosing a new staff member, “there’s only so many personality types. … I do like how Mr. DeMarsh has always felt his slogan is ‘Stay in your lane.’”

She has seen some attorneys who “tried to rule the whole world,” Detert noted. “That’s not the model I’m looking for.”

She added that she also did not want the Office of the County Attorney to be run as if it were a private law firm. “We’re the only client. I like to know things well in advance and step by step as you go along.”

Commissioner Nancy Detert. File photo

Detert said she also did not want a new county attorney who would present the commission a “fully developed idea that’s going to be controversial …” Instead, she indicated she prefers thorough discussions of options offered by the county attorney.

Having spoken with both Elbrecht and Senkow, she continued, she was “perfectly satisfied” with Elbrecht as the new county attorney. Nonetheless, she pointed out, “There’s still going to be a learning curve. … I understand the role of staffs. It’s very tricky. It’s like walking through alligators; you can make a misstep and ruin everything …”

Detert told DeMarsh, “You’ve done very, very well in that position. I hope you will spend the time to train [Elbrecht].”

Detert also pointed out the importance of a unanimous vote for the new county attorney, adding that the commission had approved the hiring of County Administrator Jonathan Lewis on a 5-0 vote. With such action, she said, the person knows he has “the full support of the board.”

Ziegler reminded his colleagues about the two concerns he raised on Jan. 15. He did not want to hire a new county attorney who would act like a sixth commissioner, he said on Jan. 29, and he was concerned that Senkow would leave county employment if Elbrecht won the position. “[Senkow] does great work, and he’s got a great reputation,” Ziegler added.

“I have full confidence in Rick and his ability,” Ziegler said, and he also felt confident that Senkow would remain with the Office of the County Attorney.

After the vote to approve Elbrecht as DeMarsh’s successor, Hines told his colleagues, “I’m glad we tabled this for a couple of weeks, especially a decision that’s this important,” as only the county attorney and the county administrator are employees of the County Commission.

“I would like to thank you as a commission for how you considered the appointment and for the confidence that you’ve shown in the Office of the County Attorney by appointing an internal candidate,” DeMarsh said.

As he has told them and as he has told people in the community, DeMarsh continued, “I think this is the best legal position in Sarasota County. It’s a tremendous legal position. I know Rick will treat it as such. He’s a very talented lawyer, and he will do an excellent job for you.”

Chair Charles Hines. File photo

DeMarsh added that he and Elbrecht and other members of the Office of the County Attorney have had conversations on numerous occasions about how the county attorney should work with the commission. He felt confident, DeMarsh said, that Elbrecht would adhere to the same practices DeMarsh had pursued.

Elbrecht’s biography on the county website notes that he graduated with honors from the University of South Florida in 1977. He earned his law degree in 1980 from the University of Florida. Elbrecht has been board-certified in civil trial law since 1993, the website says.

Additionally, he “has achieved the AV Preeminent Rating from Martindale Hubbell,” the website points out.

The Martindale-Hubbell website explains that that peer review distinction is awarded “to only those lawyers with the highest ethical standards and professional ability.”

“An elite group of approximately 10 percent of all attorneys holds an AV Preeminent Rating, a designation trusted worldwide by buyers and referrers of legal services,” the website says.

Elbrecht joined the Office of the County Attorney in June 2005. “He practices in the areas of civil rights, commercial litigation, and general government law,” the county website adds.