TAMPA – Five attorneys battle it out to be the closest U.S. attorney to the Middle District of Florida, a 35-county region that includes Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa.
A federal justice nomination conference this week released their applications prior to formal interviews for the job. Three applicants are US assistant attorneys. Two are African American. You have Indian roots. All have solid legal experience.
Two candidates – Jason Mehta and Stacie Cox Harris – have caused quite a stir in the Tampa legal community in recent months. The list also includes two Orlando-based lawyers – Roger Handberg, a senior American assistant, and Alexis Carter, a defense attorney and former Army officer.
President Joseph R. Biden will elect a candidate who must be approved by the US Senate.
Former U.S. attorney Maria Chapa Lopez resigned in February along with more than 50 other top federal attorneys across the country.
Here is a look at the applicants.
Carter, 37, is a retired US Army officer with experience as a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney.
A graduate of Florida A&M University College of Law, he began his career as an assistant public defender in Orlando in 2009 before joining the Army. During his seven years of active service, he served in the Corps of the Advocate General. He was a prosecutor and special assistant to the US attorney for four years. He later started his own law firm specializing in criminal defense.
He ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Florida Senate last year.
Carter is perhaps best known for his cameo as a witness in the George Zimmerman trial. Zimmerman was a student on a criminal justice course that Carter taught at Seminole State College. When Zimmerman was accused of killing Trayvon Martin, Carter was called in to testify what Zimmerman knew or should have known about Florida constitution.
Roger B. Handberg
Roger B. Handberg
The 50-year-old Handberg has been a federal prosecutor for 18 years, 12 of which as a senior legal representative.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, he has worked on cases ranging from public corruption, tax evasion and white-collar crime to child exploitation and civil rights. He was among the finalists to become a US attorney in 2009 and 2013.
Since 2018 he has headed the Orlando Division of the district.
His most notable cases include the prosecution of former Backstreet Boys and NSYNC executive Lou Pearlman, who was sentenced to a 25-year prison sentence in 2008 for $ 300 million in fraud.
More recently, Handberg led the prosecution of former Seminole District tax collector Joel Greenberg, a case into which a separate investigation was opened against U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz.
Stacie B. Harris
Stacie B. Harris
Harris, 41, has worked on a number of cases in her 12 years as a federal prosecutor. A US associate attorney based in Tampa, she has served as the head of the Serious Crime Division and headed the region’s human trafficking task force.
Harris is from Tallahassee and earned her bachelor’s and law degrees from Florida State University. She has served as Assistant Attorney General in Washington, DC since 2018, coordinating national efforts to prevent child exploitation and human trafficking.
In her cover letter, Harris wrote about a personal calling to contribute to a more just and equitable judicial system.
“As an African-American prosecutor, I have personally seen the competing interests that can arise in seeking justice as I acknowledge and work to improve inequalities in the system,” she wrote.
Mehta, 38, is a graduate of Harvard Law School and worked for two firms in Washington, DC in his early career. He later worked as an attorney for the US State Department. From 2012 to 2017, he served as a federal attorney in Jacksonville, handling cases ranging from billions in fraud to extortion.
He left government service to join Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP, which specializes in the criminal defense of employees. It is the same company that employs former US attorney A. Lee Bentley III, whom Mehta referred to as a mentor and personal friend in his application. His list of references also includes former US attorney A. Brian Albritton and US District Judge Bill Jung.
In his cover letter, Mehta wrote that his father immigrated from India to the USA at the age of 20, where his family lived in refugee camps after the division. He also wrote about his Jewish maternal grandmother, who fled Nazi Germany in 1942, and how his family’s experiences made him appreciate the American ideal of equality.
Matthew H. Perry
Perry, 63, has been a Tampa federal attorney for 21 years. Before that, he worked as a federal defender for 12 years.
As the lead counsel, he gives legal opinions to the US attorney and oversees the attorneys and office staff. He has followed complex cases of drug smuggling overseas. He has also defended the US government in high dollar lawsuits.
Perry ran unsuccessfully for the Circuit Judge in Pinellas County in 2017. He holds a law degree from Stetson University College of Law.