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Leaders welcome 2nd District Court of Appeals

Mark Parker



A sizable contingent of local and state leaders gathered in St. Petersburg’s Mirror Lake neighborhood Wednesday to celebrate the start of construction on a facility for the Second District Court of Appeal.

Speakers also utilized the ceremony to honor its namesake.


The courthouse and facility will be named for the late Bernie McCabe, who served as the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney in Florida’s Sixth Judicial Circuit for nearly three decades. Several speakers attested that the Stetson Law graduate and community leader profoundly impacted many lives. He died in 2021.

Former House Speaker Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor, one of McCabe’s longtime mentees, became emotional at times as he provided the welcoming address. He noted that many officials in attendance had long histories throughout Tampa Bay, and said the event felt more like a wedding than a groundbreaking, as it was a chance to reconnect with old friends.

“You’ve had a front-row seat for the last 25 years or so about this ongoing discussion about where the 2nd District Court of Appeals (DCA) would be,” added Sprowls. “It was a very long, controversial conversation for a very long time.

“And today, with all of you, we are going to put to rest that the 2nd District Court of Appeals will be right here in St. Petersburg, in Pinellas County.”

A picture of the 2nd DCA rendering officials displayed at the event. Orlando-based DLR Group and St. Petersburg’s Wannemacher Jensen Architects are designing the courthouse.


The site for the long-awaited new courthouse was the source of much legislative debate after a study concluded that Lakeland was an untenable location for the 2nd DCA nearly six years ago. Lawmakers – led by St. Pete’s former State Sen. Jeff Brandes and Sprowls – began pushing to build a new facility on the state-owned site of the Sebring Building at 525 Mirror Lake Dr. N.

The property encompasses three acres of lake frontage and places the new courthouse near City Hall and the Pinellas County Clerk of Court. The vast majority of 2nd DCA cases originate in Tampa Bay, and the aforementioned study concluded the best long-term option was to build a new facility in Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.

State lawmakers agreed, and the legislature allocated $21 million in 2020 to begin plans for a new courthouse in Pinellas. However, the governor vetoed the project due to the onset of the pandemic.

Sprowls said Covid also disrupted plans for an expansive memorial service to honor McCabe, underscoring the importance of Wednesday’s event.

“We didn’t get to do what we’re doing today, which is to talk about him in public,” said Sprowls. “To tell stories about him, to honor him – and I always felt like that was something that was missing.”

In March 2021, Lakeland senator Kelli Stargel asked for $50 million to build a new Polk County facility. The governor appointed her husband, John Stargel, to serve as a 2nd DCA judge in August 2020.

Plans for the facility remained in jeopardy until January when lawmakers voted to create a 6th District Court of Appeal in Lakeland. That allowed plans for the new 2nd DCA, which stretches from Pasco to Sarasota County, to move forward. Sprowls successfully advocated for $50 million in funding to begin construction.

Tom Berger, director of real estate for the Florida Department of Management Services, noted that the state leadership carved the 4th, 5th and now 6th DCA from the Tampa Bay district since its inception in 1956.

“So, we have basically given birth to three districts,” he said. “We are profoundly grateful for the enthusiasm and warm welcome we have received from the City of St. Petersburg. I want the people of St. Petersburg to be proud of what we built.”

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody noted Bernie McCabe’s impact on the local community and judicial system.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, also a Tampa Bay native, explained that courts provide order through life’s chaos. She said the 2nd DCA endured leaks and mold infestation until officials deemed the Lakeland courthouse uninhabitable.

In the years since, Moody added, judicial leaders have persevered through uncertainty over where their next headquarters would be and heard cases from a Stetson College of Law classroom in Tampa. She relayed her longstanding belief that the 2nd DCA needed a permanent home as the surrounding community looks to the courts to provide a sense of stability.

She asked attendees, which included McCabe’s family, if they could name another person in the criminal justice system who better embodied the “stable application of the rule of law.”

“We are taking what was once a walking embodiment of stability in the criminal justice system – sound, consistent, just and fair application of the rule of law – and now naming what will be the permanent home of the 2nd DCA after such a great man,” said Moody. “This is a big deal. Bernie McCabe was a big deal.”

While officials did not provide a timeline during the ceremony, Brandes told the Catalyst he expects construction to take 24 months.



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