March 13, 2012 at 2:16 AM EST - Updated June 26 at 5:45 PM
WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) For three years, he pushed for justice and held the responsible accountable. This week, Michael McAuliffe will step down as State Attorney of the 15th Judicial Circuit of Florida and turn the page on a tenure some critics have said would be remembered as much for its successes as its perceived missteps.
"I don't think of what could have or what might have been. I view it as what should be. And, where I'm going," McAuliffe said.
Seen by some in the Democratic Party as a rising star with an unlimited political future, McAuliffe decided in January to leave public office to work as a senior attorney for Oxbow Carbon, an energy company.
"Others have different paths for me. And the ones that had me going on to other public service I viewed it as a compliment because that's how I think they meant it."
McAuliffe said his personal high water mark was a sense of accomplishment for trying to build what he considered a national-caliber prosecutor's office. "I hope I leave the office better than what I found it. The conviction rate is ... very high in this office," he said.
McAuliffe was hailed for his crackdown on gangs, pill mills and public corruption. But critics perceived him as going easy on criminals for agreeing to give killer Paul Mehrige a plea deal.
"Nobody is perfect and we stumble and fall and we're not right on everything. I'm very respectful of the victims family members," McAuliffe said. "I will tell you the community at large has been overwhelmingly supportive whenever you have seven consecutive life sentences, finality and closure, that defendant will serve a life sentence and will not leave prison until his death. Time will show that resolution to be the appropriate one."
McAuliffe said he always explored new opportunities and accepted them when they were "appropriate, challenging and meaningful."
"I think that there are many chapters in a person's career if they choose to make it so. My wife and I went to Eastern Europe to teach in the early 1990s after the fall of Communism and left wonderful jobs at the Justice Department in Washington to do so. So, you give something up to get something else."
"I climbed Denali in 2006 and Aconcagua, which is the highest peak in the Western hemisphere, in 2005. I think I have a track record of mountains - some of them physical, some of them professional - and this is just another example of that path."
McAuliffe said he expected he would be judged not for how long he was in office but for the work he did while he was there. "The secret is to be intellectually curious, work hard and try to make a positive contribution in whatever endeavor you are pursuing," he said. "I hope I'm remembered as a thoughtful, engaged reform-minded state attorney."
On Friday, Florida Governor Rick Scott named Peter Antonacci, a former state prosecutor as interim Palm Beach County State Attorney.
Antonacci, a Republican, succeeds McAuliffe on Friday and is expected remain in the position through January 7th. Dave Aronberg, a Democrat and former State Senator, is the only candidate to have filed to run for the office.