Monica Hofheinz Assistant State Attorney
My undergraduate degree was in Music Education, and I was going to be a music teacher. Instead, the summer after graduation I began a job with Columbia Pictures Publications. I started typing the words to the music, then doing copyrights. I then became an editor, and I began arranging children’s music books called Monica Scott’s Big Note Piano.
After five years, I left while on maternity leave and ultimately decided to go to law school. You could say a bird just flew in the window and recommended it. It took a year to enroll — prep course for LSAT, application process, going to see schools, and substitute teaching to pay the bills. So there was no big issue or motivation. I was just looking for a better profession to have enough income so my children could have a better education.
I became pregnant with my second child in my first year of school and gave birth three days before the beginning of my second year. I couldn’t take more than a few weeks off, even though my son was born blue and not breathing and was in neo-natal for seven days. Reagan was president at the time and he was threatening to eliminate student loans for graduate level and above. My husband and I were already broke. I lost all my credit, all my appliances, and almost lost my house to termites. It was a horrible, horrible time.
Then, in my last semester of law school, I enrolled in a course called “Criminal Clinic,” which was basically an internship with the State Attorney’s Office. I loved it and applied there. Miraculously, I passed the Bar exam on my first try and began working there on October 22, 1984 at $19,000 a year.
Now you’re the Executive Director! What you does that entail on an average day?
That’s a difficult question to answer because there is so much I do on any given day that may be totally different from the day before. It is by far the most interesting work I have ever done. Sometimes a day can be taken up with one major problem or twenty. I just never know what awaits me when I walk in the door and open my email.
For approximately eight years, I prosecuted cases from misdemeanors to felonies. Now I no longer carry a caseload. I am involved with our 220 prosecutors — Assistant State Attorney’s — and their cases. Sometimes I deal with decisions on hiring certain experts, costs associated with the travel of witnesses, court reporters, and depositions. And since I am also an Assistant State Attorney, I may be involved in the amendment process of a criminal statute to clarify laws or close loopholes to protect the public from criminal activity. Being a prosecutor and Executive Director means I can go from one committee dealing with criminal laws and walk across the hall to another committee dealing with state budgets.
One of the first criminal laws I was involved in was having the drug flunitrazepam listed as a Schedule I drug — the highest ranking schedule. This is a very dangerous drug that made its way into the United States and Florida right after Hurricane Andrew. You would know it by the street name “roofies.” I wrote the law, went to Tallahasee, found a House and Senate sponsor, and the legislation was filed. Then boom! The pharmaceutical company that marketed the drug outside the United States, as it was never approved by the FDA for sale here, attacked me and any effort to label the drug as dangerous. They had a lot of money and beat me up pretty bad. They managed to convince the Legislature not to do it. I was very disappointed, but I kept fighting. I went back the next year and tried again. It became the first law passed and signed by Governor Lawton Chiles in 1997. That was a real experience. I was at the bill signing ceremony, but I gave the photo to my mom.
After such bruising experiences, what sustains your continued interest in the work?
I really don’t know, actually. But I enjoy it immensely. I wake up each morning and still look forward to my job, and for that, I am very grateful. If I work on a legislative issue such as creating a better law or securing enough funds for the operations of this office, that alone fulfills my continued motivation.
Perhaps you should have chosen someone to interview that had some great idealistic ego of their work. I do not. I do not receive, nor seek credit for most of my work. I am really just hoping to retain the benefits I have been counting on for over twenty-six years when the time comes for me to retire.
Ultimately, I would like to work for myself someday and be my own boss. One of the issues I would become involved with would be the protection of the elderly, and other vulnerable or disabled adults. You can write all the criminal laws you want, which I’ve already helped with, but they’re not like child victims. Changing the diaper of an elderly adult is not the same as changing the diaper of a child. Families abandon their adults, and no one cares. They have dementia, Alzheimer’s, and strokes in their brains that can make them unpleasant and not very nice, along with a lack of personal hygiene, or no money. They can be easily taken advantage of and discriminated against. It really scares me.
I was going to ask if you have, or ever had, a desire to run for public office, but you say you never seek credit for you work, which puts you about as far away from a politician as possible.
You are absolutely correct. I have never had an interest in running for public office. I work for an elected official whom I greatly respect, but I see how much he has sacrificed for his office. All that campaigning is not easy.
Yet you help to write laws. Do you pay visits to individual law-makers and present them with charts and stats supporting the views you’re trying to get across? What role does quid pro quo play?
Because of the way the Florida lobbying law is written, I have to register as a lobbyist. If you intend to influence an elected official in any way you have to be registered. So when I go up to speak to a Senator or House member about a new criminal law, or changes needed in an existing law, I try to influence them based solely on my arguments and experiences of why it is needed. My requests do not really necessitate the use of charts, although sometimes stats are helpful when trying to explain the needs for additional funding to assist with increased criminal caseloads. I know about the quid pro quo, but it really doesn’t come into play with my issues.
Have your legislative priorities changed over the course of your time as an Assistant State Attorney?
They’ve pretty much stayed the course over the last few years. Perhaps you might say the focus has leaned more to the budget battle as compared to focusing on criminal laws. The economy has made it more difficult to retain staff while representing the state in court. State Attorneys are not a service agency. We are the state. We stand in court as the state. If we’re not there, the state’s not there. So budget issues have been pretty difficult.
Do you think about what effect you might have while working outside your official capacities? You talked earlier about how you’d like to work for yourself and become further involved in issues involving the elderly. Do you have concerns regarding your current effectiveness in that regard?
I have absolutely no concerns regarding my efforts as an Assistant State Attorney lobbying for better criminal laws and funding for the office that enforces them. I would hope my efforts would be the measure of my effectiveness, but that characterization would have to come from others.
When I do leave and hang that shingle to work independently, I won’t be concerned about working in or out of any official capacity. I’ve never been much concerned about it because my field is not part of the game, if you interpret the game as politics or something like that. I just think vulnerable adults, such as the elderly who are sometimes abandoned by their own families, need more advocates for their protection. And it is my humble opinion that if you have an issue you feel genuinely strong about, you should pursue it because it’s the right thing to do.