Saturday, December 29, 2007

Public Defender Jacobs dies at 62

Legal colleagues grieve for Lee veteran, friend

By Jason Wermers
Originally posted on December 29, 2007

The death of Public Defender Robert R. Jacobs II is a great loss to Southwest Florida's legal community, prosecutors and defenders say.

"He was the kindest, most compassionate person I've ever known," said Deputy Public Defender Ken Garber. "Bob was a very dear and close friend, and I miss him a lot already."

Assistant Public Defender Kathleen Fitzgeorge said Jacobs, 62, died Thursday evening of complications from a stroke he suffered Dec. 11. Family members said through Fitzgeorge that they did not want to comment.

"This is so sad because we really did lose one of the good ones," said Fort Myers defense lawyer John Evans III, who said Jacobs gave him his first job. "He was a guy who led the way for criminal justice in Lee County for the past 30 years."

Jacobs had been public

defender for the 20th Judicial Circuit since 1998 and was last elected to a four-year term in 2006. He had started as an assistant public defender in 1973.

The circuit serves Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The public defender's office represents criminal defendants who cannot afford to pay for their own lawyers.

"He was certainly a zealous advocate for people accused of committing crimes," said State Attorney Steve Russell, the top prosecutor in the 20th Circuit and Jacobs' counterpart. "He had a long history in the system of representing indigent defendants. He was tenacious, and he had a great sense of humor, which he used to his advantage in presenting cases."

One of Jacobs' most recent clients was Fred Cooper, 29, of Bonita Springs. Cooper is accused of killing Steven and Michelle Andrews in their Gateway home Dec. 27, 2005. Jacobs tried five times to get the trial moved out of Lee County, but each request was denied.

Garber and Assistant Public Defender Neil McLoughlin worked with Jacobs on the case. It could go to trial in 2008, and Jacobs' death is not expected to affect the timing.

Former State Attorney Joe D'Alessandro said he had spoken with Jacobs Dec. 10, and all seemed well then.

"It was just sort of, 'Hey, how are you doing, what's new, haven't seen you in a while,' " D'Alessandro said. "I am so sorry to hear that he is gone."

Assistant Public Defender Neil McLoughlin said that among Jacobs' talents, his best was keeping defendants off death row. A vast majority of the time, McLoughlin said, Jacobs was able to get a life sentence rather than the death penalty.

"Bob was an excellent attorney and a great administrator," McLoughlin said. "He was really admired, especially for his work in death penalty cases."

Jacobs was best known for representing Kevin Foster, leader of the Lords of Chaos, a group of east Lee County teens that went on a crime sprees in spring of 1996 that included the shooting death of a Riverdale High School band director.

The killing and subsequent trial made national news and was one of the most publicized crimes in Lee County history.

Foster was sentenced to die in 1998.

Foster, now on death row, did not heed Jacobs' strong suggestion that he accept a life-sentence plea agreement from the state.

"In the Lords of Chaos case, he always represented his client, but he did so fairly and as a gentleman," said Randy McGruther, chief assistant state attorney, who was a prosecutor in the Foster trial.

"We handled a lot of cases together, on opposite sides. He was always a gentleman, and he will be deeply missed in the legal community."

Jacobs also represented former Collier County sheriff's deputy Royle "Roy" Kipp, who killed his estranged wife and a friend and former fellow deputy, after catching the two snuggling in her North Naples apartment in May 2000. Kipp was sentenced to life in prison in 2002.

D'Alessandro was state attorney from 1969 to 2003. Jacobs was his counterpart as public defender from 1998 to 2003.

"I liked working with Bob Jacobs," D'Alessandro said. "He would discuss things reasonably and logically. He was a little like, 'This is what I think. When you get around to my way of thinking, let me know.'"

Senior Lee County Circuit Judge James R. Thompson counted Jacobs as a good friend. They had known each other since the 1970s, when Thompson was an assistant state attorney and Jacobs was an assistant public defender.

"He advocated for his clients, but he did it in such a way that he was very professional," Thompson said. "He didn't take cheap shots."

Rick Parker, president of the Florida Public Defenders Association, said Jacobs distinguished himself with nearly three decades of trial-lawyer experience before being elected public defender.

"He was an extra nice guy," said Parker, who is public defender in the Gainesville-based Eighth Judicial Circuit. "He was just about the nicest guy I know."

Gov. Charlie Crist will need to appoint an interim public defender. That person would serve until the next general election, which is scheduled for November. Parker said it is unclear whether that term would be two or four years.

While the timing of Crist's appointment is uncertain, "I'd expect to see something happen fairly quickly," Parker said.

According to a biography posted on the public defender's Web site, Jacobs was born in Tampa and received a bachelor's degree from University of South Florida, and a law degree from Florida State University.

He was a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He is survived by his wife, Mary Daley Jacobs, an attorney. They have a son, Robert III, who received his doctorate in psychology from Texas A&M University in August 2003. Robert R. Jacobs III is a staff psychologist at Vanderbilt University, the biography says.

A funeral Mass will be held 11 a.m. Monday at Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord, 8121 Cypress Lake Drive in south Fort Myers.

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