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Here’s To Bob Dillinger And His 40-Year Legal Career


In this blog, we celebrate the career of Bob Dillinger, who served as the chief public defender for the Pinellas-Pasco judicial circuit. Dillinger retired at the end of 2020. He was elected public defender for the first time in 1996 and served five terms in total. He spent his 40-year legal career defending those who could not afford a private defense attorney. He also turned that role into a social services provider of sorts as he tried to address mental illness, homelessness, and childhood trauma.

Chief deputy Sara Mollo took over in 2021 and hopes to continue Dillinger’s legacy. She called it “a massive honor and privilege to follow in his footsteps.”

Dillinger, who was 69 at the time of his retirement, left behind a legacy of compassion and leadership. He earned many awards from legal and social services organizations. Dillinger also performed a lot of work in the community with his wife. For more than 10 years, he and his wife helped thousands of local children through the Beth Dillinger Foundation. They named the charity named after their daughter, who died by suicide in 2006.

Working at the public defender’s office convinced Dillinger to become one. While he had an interest in urban planning, he wanted to try out being in a courtroom. The public defender clinic allowed law students to try cases and he was hooked after two cases.

In 1995, Dillinger filed to run against his old boss, Robert Jagger, in the 1996 primary. Jagger was believed to be the longest-serving public defender in the country, having been in the role for 35 years. Dillinger ended up beating Jagger with 57 percent of the vote.

Dillinger came into the job with a passion for mental health. He drew attention to the country’s broken mental health care system in the early 2000s. In 2003, he won a grant for a program that diverted more than 7,000 jail inmates with severe mental illness into treatment.

One of Dillinger’s most high-profile victories was the exoneration of Dale Morris Jr. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office had accused him of the rape and murder of his 9-year-old neighbor in 1997. Dillinger was convinced of Morris’ innocence and aggressively defended him with all the resources possible.

The case focused on a bite mark on the child’s shoulder. The sheriff’s dental expert said it matched Morris’ imprints, but the defense thought differently. In 1998, just a few weeks before Morris’ trial was set to start, crime labs determined that hair found on the girl’s body matched someone else.

Dillinger never forgot the call from a prosecutor informing him that the state was abandoning the charge. In fact, the court document dismissing Morris’ case was framed in his office

Seek Help for Your Criminal Defense Case

Bob Dillinger gave assistance to those who needed help defending themselves. At Madonna Law Group, we strive to do the same.

We offer vigorous representation for misdemeanor and felony allegations all throughout Florida. Schedule a consultation with a Dade City & Zephyrhills criminal defense attorney from Madonna Law Group today by filling out the online form or calling (800) 557-0411.



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