Campbell’s passion for justice led to law career
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
One night changed Jack Campbell’s future as an apprentice with aspirations of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. He stood in the emergency room at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and wondered how he could help the family of the victim of a drunken driver’s rage find justice.
The suspect was eventually found not competent to face trial. That sparked Campbell’s interest in law.
“I watched the case and he was found incompetent to proceed and in my opinion never got the punishment he deserved for killing this young man,” Campbell said. “That’s why I went to law school.”
Almost 20 years later, Campbell is now in an election campaign seeking to become the next 2nd judicial district state attorney. His run hasn’t been short of any of the kinds of banter that comes with such a high-profile race.
He faces off with Sean Desmond in next week’s primary. The Democratic winner will face Republican Pete Williams in the general election this November for the job to run the office that covers six counties in the circuit.
Campbell, the 43-year-old son of former Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell, hasn’t had to defend any of the accusations as much as he has found himself explaining that he would run the office much differently from current state attorney Willie Meggs. Campbell, who has worked for Meggs for the past 15 years, said he will be a change agent if elected.
Those who know him say the same.
“Jack is going to be his own person,” said legendary high school football coach Jim Sauls, who coached Campbell at Leon High School in the late 1980s. “He will do whatever he needs to and he will do it the way Jack knows it needs to be done.
“It won’t be done necessarily because whoever was there before did it this way. He is more of his own person than that.”
Under Meggs, the office has been accused of favoritism to the well-established while the less fortunate – especially Blacks – have not been fairly charged.
Campbell made his point about changing the office by using the case of former FSU head football coach Bobby Bowden and current coach Jimbo Fisher, who was a coach in waiting under Bowden before taking over the program.
Three years after taking over from Bowden, a much younger Fisher took the Seminoles to a national championship win.
In his case, Campbell said, he will work to make Tallahassee a safe place and make sure that suspects get fair trials. He also advocates a diversion program for drug addicts and a stronger crime against children program.
He also said his office will have a bigger presence throughout the circuit and his staff will become actively involved in community projects.
“I’m planning on doing things vastly different than my predecessors,” Campbell said. “I want to try to be as successful as they are, but the town has changed. We are not in Mayberry anymore. Dad and Willie knew everybody. But here I’ve got 300,000 people. It’s such a big community that I have to be able to reach out.
“I’ve learned a lot of things from Willie, but I don’t want to be the next generation of Willie. I want to be Jack.”
Although Campbell has become one of the top prosecutors under Meggs, the question of his ability has been a nagging issue.
“If you look at my experience level and what the job of state attorney is, I would suggest that I’m that one that’s out there actually leading,” he said. “If you look at the race, I have more experience at prosecuting crimes and I have far more experience of helping in solving problems than anybody running against me.”
That Campbell is running for his boss’s job initially was a surprise to his critics, but his high school football coach said Campbell showed early signs of being successful. He not only held leadership roles as a player, but also in extracurricular activities at Leon, Sauls said.
“He had all the boxes checked off for people who were going to be successful,” Sauls said. “People of that kind of character we need them badly.
“I think he is pretty well schooled. I think he has prepared himself for it. If Jack didn’t think he was, I don’t think he’d run for it just to run for it.
If he didn’t (believe) deep down inside he was prepared for it, he wouldn’t go after it. He is tenacious enough to believe that he will pull it off and make it happen.”
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