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Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, Hillsborough County, Florida

Tampa Bay is most financially distressed major metro

Report: Tampa Bay is most financially distressed among major metros
Tampa Bay Times
By Jeff Harrington
May 16, 2012

Got a bad case of the fiscal blues? No surprise there.

No other major metropolitan area is as stressed out as Tampa Bay when it comes to the combined factors of a rough job market, tight credit, household budget constraints, lower net worth and, most significantly, a lousy housing market.

That's according to the quarterly Consumer Distress Index released Wednesday by the nonprofit credit counseling agency CredAbility.

Out of the top 25 metros, Tampa Bay was not only most financially distressed, but it also was the only major metro in the bottom-rung category of "Emergency Crisis." Detroit, the second-most-distressed city, just barely landed one category higher: "Distressed Unstable." Read more here 

Breaking The Law… Again | ACLU, Florida Press Association, First Amendment Foundation Letter to Hillsborough County Chief Judge Menendez "Stop Blocking Citizens from Attending Foreclosure Court"

Is Hillsborough 13th Circuit Court a kangaroo court? A kangaroo court is "a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted". The outcome of a trial by kangaroo court is essentially determined in advance, usually for the purpose of ensuring conviction, either by going through the motions of manipulated procedure or by allowing no defense at all. A kangaroo court's proceedings deny, hinder or obstruct due process rights in the name of expediency. The first recorded use of the term kangaroo court dates to 1853 in Texas. It comes from the notion of justice proceeding "by leaps", like a kangaroo.

Judge Menendez

4closureFraud
November 18, 2011

I can’t believe we are going through this AGAIN! Over the last few years we have come up against the courts blocking access to observers in foreclosure proceedings. Most recently, we received reports from observers and actual defendants being denied court access. What is this, the Star Chambers?

Well, what we did, again, was got in contact with the protectors of our rights and the results are below. From the beginning of this fight, all we ever asked was for the courts to follow the law. I can’t believe that this is STILL happening after all that has been exposed. Thank you to all you Citizen Warriors for submitting the affidavits necessary to make this happen. We are watching. Read more here

Letter to Chief Judge Menendez
November 17, 2011
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Hillsborough Court Summary Judgment Scandal

Comparing Hillsborough’s Dismissal rate to other Florida counties
Stopa Law Blog
Mark P. Stopa
October 29, 2011

My colleague, foreclosure defense attorney Matt Weidner, just re-posted the Foreclosure and Economic Recovery Status Report which came out a few months back, openly wondering how Hillsborough County could have had only 226 foreclosure cases dismissed in the 12-month period from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011.

This got me looking closer at the report, and something really, really jumped out at me. Take a close look at page 3. Do you see, not only that the Hillsborough court dismissed just 226 cases, a very low number compared to other counties, but also that it entered 6,530 summary judgments?

Think about that ratio for a minute. 226 dismissals versus 6,530 summary judgments. That’s 29 summary judgments for every dismissal – a ratio of 29:1.

Now look at the other counties on the chart. Do you see any other counties with that type of ratio? I sure don’t – there aren’t any.

In the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit (Broward), the ratio is less than 2:1.

In the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit (Palm Beach), the ratio is approximately 1:1.

In the Twelfth Judicial Circuit (Manatee and Sarasota), there were more dismissals than summary judgments!

In the Sixth Judicial Circuit (Pinellas and Pasco), the ratio is 4:1.

Incredibly, 4:1 is the highest ratio of any county in Florida other than Hillsborough, and the ratio in Hillsborough is 29:1.

Think about that for a minute, and ask yourself… with 20 judicial circuits in Florida, why does Hillsborough have such an astronomically higher ratio of summary judgments to dismissals than every other circuit in Florida? Simply from a statistical standpoint, an outlier like this cannot be a coincidence … can it? Read more here

Comparing Hillsborough’s Dismissal rate to other Florida counties
Comparing Hillsborough’s Dismissal rate [...]
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The Foreclosure and Economic Recovery Status Report is published by the Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA)

Foreclosure and Economic Recovery Status Report
Office of State Courts Adimistrator (OSCA)
Foreclosure and Economic Recovery Status[...]
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Critics: Judge with interest in bank shouldn't hear foreclosures

Shannon Behnken

Critics: Judge with interest in bank shouldn't hear foreclosures
The Tampa Tribune
by SHANNON BEHNKEN
July 21, 2011

Henry P. Trawick Jr.: "I think she shouldn't hear foreclosure cases," Trawick said. "That's what I would do if I had that close of a connection, but perhaps my ethical standards are higher."

TAMPA -- A Hillsborough County judge seeking to tame a backlog of thousands of foreclosure lawsuits is raising questions from critics who wonder whether she should be hearing foreclosure cases at all.

Judge Martha J. Cook has an ownership interest in Community Bank, where her husband, William H. Sedgeman Jr., serves as chairman and chief executive, public documents show.

The bank, known formally as Community Bank of Manatee, has 17 locations throughout the Tampa Bay area. The bank has been hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis and has struggled to shed troubled assets.

Like most banks, Community Bank often finds itself as a plaintiff against homeowners in foreclosure cases.

"It's reasonable that a homeowner would fear they aren't going to get a fair hearing before her," said Mark Stopa, a foreclosure defense attorney. "There's no way I could go into court before her without thinking about this." Read more here

NOTE: Judge Cook was reassigned to the criminal court division.

Read about Circuit Judge Martha J. Cook’s bank here at the bottom of the Banking page on the Justice Network

Judge Martha J Cook, Star Chamber Proceedings

Star chamber proceedings n. any judicial or quasi-judicial action, trial, or hearing which so grossly violates standards of "due process" that a party appearing in the proceedings (hearing or trial) is denied a fair hearing. The term comes from a large room with a ceiling decorated with stars in which secret hearings of the privy council and judges met to determine punishment for disobedience of the proclamations of King Henry VIII of Great Britain (1509-1547).

The high-handed, unfair, predetermined judgments, which sent the accused to The Tower of London or to the chopping block, made "star chamber" synonymous with unfairness and illegality from the bench. In modern American history the best example of star chamber proceedings was the conduct of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (1938-1975) which used its subpoena power to intimidate citizens by asking them unconstitutional questions about their political beliefs and associations, and then charging them with contempt of Congress for refusing to answer. Another example was the conduct of criminal proceedings against black defendants in some southern states from 1876 until the late 1960s. Read more on the free dictionary

Deference to the judgments and rulings of courts depends upon public confidence in the integrity and independence of judges. Commentary, Canon 1, Code of Judicial Conduct

Judge Cook has denied litigants the basic requirements of justice, fairness and equality that we should all expect from our courts. Judge Cook’s departure from the Code of Judicial Conduct and the rule of law offends public policy and recalls one of the most celebrated dissents law, Lord Atkin’s citation of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass in Liversidge v. Anderson [1942] AC 206 at 245.

 

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master that’s all.’

Star Chamber
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Star Chamber (Latin: Camera stellata) was an English court of law that sat at the royal Palace of Westminster until 1641. In modern usage, legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings are sometimes called, metaphorically or poetically, star chambers. This is a pejorative term and intended to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the proceedings. The inherent lack of objectivity of any politically motivated charges has led to substantial reforms in English law in most jurisdictions since that time. Read more here

Mark Stopa letter to Judge Martha Cook, July 20, 2011

Note: This post has been removed by the author, and is here for archival purpose only. Another example of the chilling effect on free speech by The Powers That Be - TPTB 

HILLSBOROUGH FORECLOSURE COURT- Very Disturbing Numbers, a system gone awry

 

HILLSBOROUGH FORECLOSURE COURT- Very Disturbing Numbers, a system gone awry
Matt Weidner blog
Fighting For The American People
October 29, 2011




Foreclosure and Economic Recovery Status Report

Type of Dispositions1
July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011

13th Judicial Circuit =
226 Dismissals
6,530 Summary Judgments
0 Trials
6,756 Cases Disposed Of

 

REPORT CARD

 

"The numbers detailed above are very, very disturbing. They reflect a court system that is out of whack, and I don’t like the way the numbers are tilted. These numbers come from the Office of State Court Administrator and they are so far out of line from every other judicial circuit that they warrant high level review from the United States Justice Department or from someone, anyone who has any ability or willingness to stand up and speak for justice, the Rule of Law and basic rights..."

"These numbers simply cannot be ignored and they certainly cannot be explained away. And the execution of the procedures that lead to these numbers are even more disturbing that must be investigated….if only anyone with authority would look into them..."

 

Another 800 Pound Gorrilla that sits smack dab in the middle of these numbers is the alleged investigations of the foreclosure industry by Florida’s Attorney General. There were nine, count ‘em nine separate investigations into improper practices and many of those issues relate directly to the cases identified above, but this state’s attorney general has just walked away from those investigations.


"It’s beyond disturbing. It’s tyranny. It’s treason. It’s the kind of abject corruption and repression that leads to people rioting in the streets and Revolution..." Read more here

Hillsborough Foreclosure Court, Disturbing Numbers
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Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States, Gillespie v. Thirteenth Judicial Circuit FL

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (r) to Scott Rothstein (l): "Scott - You are amazing!"

 

See U.S. v. Rothstein, 09-cr-60331, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida. See The Florida Bar v. Scott W. Rothstein, TFB Case No. 2010-50,656(09B)

 

US Supreme Court docket page - Petition No. 12-7747
Petition denied February 19, 2013; rehearing denied April 15, 2013

 

Something is not right in Florida.

 

Like Gillespie, the citizens of Florida also need the assistance and protection of an Article III federal judge.

Unfortunately, every Article III federal judge in Florida is a member of The Florida Bar. This is a case for The Supreme Court of the United States. Disbar The Florida Bar

Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U.S. 773 (1975) held lawyers engage in "trade or commerce" and hence ended the legal profession's exemption from antitrust laws.

A pamphlet published by The Florida Bar Public Information and Bar Services Department as a service for consumers states: "The Florida Bar disciplinary program has become the gold-standard for protecting the public." Yet somehow Scott Rothstein, at the time a member in good standing with the Florida Bar, was able to operate a massive 1.2 billion dollar Ponzi scheme from the law offices of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler P.A. right under the Bar’s nose, and while serving on a Florida Bar grievance committee. Rothstein was also appointed August 25, 2008 by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to serve as a Commissioner on the Fourth Appellate District Judicial Nomination Commission, arguably at the height of his racketeering activities, to which he plead guilty and on June 9, 2010 received a 50-year prison sentence. Read more here

Watch this video of Hillsborough Sheriff Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones dump quadriplegic Brian Sterner out of a wheelchair and onto a jail floor. Then read about the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Florida where this atrocity occurred and you may find the Worst Circuit Court in Florida, if not the Worst Circuit Court in America. 

Treatment of disabled man attracts national spotlight

Brian Sterner

Treatment of disabled man attracts national spotlight

St. Petersburg Times
By Casey Cora and Rodney Thrash, Times Staff Writers
February 13, 2008

 

Sheriff's Office apology doesn't quell outrage

TAMPA - Hardly anyone noticed last month when a Hillsborough County detention deputy unceremoniously dumped quadriplegic Brian Sterner out of a wheelchair and onto a jail floor.


Tuesday, everyone noticed.

Sterner's lawyer pushed for criminal charges and Florida's attorney general called for a civil rights review. The Sheriff's Office apologized, labeled the incident "indefensible," and sent four deputies home pending an investigation. The Today show booked Sterner; readers expressed outrage on newspaper Web sites; and a video of the jailhouse encounter landed on YouTube.

"It's a start," said Sterner, 32, whose ouster from the wheelchair was caught on surveillance cameras at the Orient Road Jail. He expressed dismay that the deputies had not lost their jobs.
"I don't think the question of them being fired should be asked," he said. "It should already be done."

The Sheriff's Office video shows Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones dislodging Sterner from his wheelchair like cargo from a wheelbarrow, pushing up the handles as he falls forward. The other deputies in the video do not intervene. One walks away smiling.

Marshall-Jones, a 22-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, was suspended without pay. A woman who answered the telephone at her Tampa house said the deputy had no comment. A note left at her door went unanswered.

Three others - Sgt. Gary Hinson, 51, Cpl. Steven Dickey, 45, and Cpl. Decondra Williams, 36 - were placed on administrative leave with pay. Hinson has been with the agency since 1984; Dickey, 1982; and Williams, 1994. None of the three could be reached.
Read more here

George E. Edgecomb Courthouse, Tampa, Florida

 

Chief Judge

Thirteenth Judicial Circuit

The Honorable Manuel Menendez, Jr.
8
00 E. Twiggs St., Room 602
Tampa, Florida 33602
 

David A. Rowland, Court Counsel
Administrative Offices Of The Courts
Thirteenth Judicial Circuit
Legal Department
800 E. Twiggs Street, Suite 603
Tampa, Florida 33602

Pat Frank, Tampa Port Officials Traveled To Cuba

Pat Frank, Tampa

 

 

Pat Frank, Clerk of the Circuit Court
George E. Edgecomb Courthouse
800 Twiggs Street
Tampa, FL 33602

Fidel Castro, Cuba

Tampa Port Officials Traveled To Cuba
By STEVE HUETTEL
St. Petersburg Times
June 12, 2003

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Frank, Port Counsel Dale Bohner, part of delegation

TAMPA - With permission from the federal government in hand, Tampa Port Authority officials are gearing up for a trade trip to Cuba, and it may happen as soon as next month. The agency wants to talk with Cuban officials about shipping agricultural products they buy from Tampa Bay area companies through Tampa instead of other Florida ports. The agency hasn’t set a date or decided who will make the trip, said port counsel Dale Bohner. Read more here

Trial court administrator retires, collects $312,351 lump sum, then returns to same $100,000+ job

Bridenback

Hillsborough County trial court administrator Mike Bridenback retires, then returns under Florida doubledipping loophole, collects $312,351 lump sum

St. Petersburg Times
By Colleen Jenkins
June 1, 2009

 

TAMPA - Mike Bridenback, Hillsborough County's longtime trial court administrator, retired without fanfare on April 30. On Monday, he returned to his former gig.

The month-long break meant a cut in his annual salary but allowed him to collect a $312,351 lump sum retirement payment and, eventually, a $4,744 monthly pension, according to records from the state Department of Management Services.

 

That's the sort of "double-dipping" targeted this spring by Florida legislators, who wanted to limit a controversial loophole that permitted public officials to retire and return to their old jobs 30 days later with a salary and a pension.

Lawmakers passed a bill that requires retirees to wait six months before returning to a state job.

But the new law won't take effect until next year, so it doesn't apply to Bridenback, 56, and the more than 225 elected officials and 9,000 state employees already benefitting from the loophole.

Hillsborough Chief Judge Manuel Menendez said he rehired Bridenback because he was the most qualified applicant. He has worked 35 years for the state, including the last 15 years as Hillsborough's trial court administrator.

"I'd rather have him working for us than somebody else," Menendez said. "He's got a world of experience, and we certainly need his help."

Bridenback beat out two others, a legal administrator for a law office and a former Pinellas County government employee.

Thanks to his brief retirement, the circuit is now getting a veteran administrator at a starter's pay, Menendez said.

Though Bridenback was earning $128,654 a year when he retired, a judicial branch hiring practice requires him to return to the position at the minimum salary of $105,000.
Read more here

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO)

Major Livingston

Major James Livingston has been with the Sheriff's Office since 2006 and serves as the Commander of the Court Operations Division. The Division is responsible for all aspects of security at the Courthouse Complex, which includes the Edgecomb Courthouse, the Courthouse Annex, the County Center, the State Attorney's Office Building, and the Public Defender's Office Building. The Division also includes the Civil Process Section which serves approximately 150,000 court-related documents each year. Read more here 

Todd 'MJ Kelli' Schnitt's lawyer arrested on drunk driving charge in Tampa

Todd 'MJ Kelli' Schnitt's lawyer arrested on drunk driving charge in Tampa
Tampa Bay Times
By Alexandra Zayas and Laura C. Morel,
Times Staff Writers
January 24, 2013

TAMPA — The news of the day should have been about Michelle Schnitt taking the witness stand in a defamation trial, where she would testify about life as the wife of a shock jock at war.

Instead Thursday, the spotlight turned to her attorney, released from jail that morning, charged with driving under the influence.

Charles Philip Campbell Jr., 64, was pulled over near Cass and Tampa streets just before 10 p.m. Wednesday after Tampa police said he violated another driver's right of way. His eyes were glassy, police said, and he smelled of alcohol. He refused to perform field sobriety exercises or have his blood alcohol level taken.

He was booked at the Hillsborough County jail and released on $500 bail at 6 a.m.

"This is going to be a rough day," he said at 8:30 a.m., as he walked into the courtroom. Cameras had followed him down the sidewalk outside.

Lawyers huddled with each other, then with the judge.

Circuit Judge James D. Arnold announced there would be no testimony, and that attorneys would work on jury instructions instead. Jurors were sent home. If they obey the judge's order not to take in trial publicity, they will not learn about the arrest.

But even without this sideshow, the trial that started last week has been a spectacle. Jurors have learned about Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and the fans of his radio show who call themselves his "army."

They've met his on-air rival Todd "MJ Kelli" Schnitt, a shock jock himself who sued Clem for making "false, highly offensive and defamatory statements" about him and his wife.

They've heard witnesses ponder the many meanings of the word "whore" and the many intentions behind an expressed death wish. And they've watched the top prosecutor in the county testify about the for-entertainment slaughter of a wild boar.

Campbell asked a lot of questions in previous days. But as he left the courtroom Thursday, he declined a reporter's request for comment.

His law firm, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, later released this statement:

"The DUI charge against attorney Phil Campbell is certainly a serious matter. We have a high level of respect for law enforcement and the legal process. However, this development has nothing to do with Mr. and Mrs. Schnitt or their current defamation trial. We will continue to advocate for Mr. and Mrs. Schnitt's rights and have the utmost confidence in Mr. Campbell and our entire legal team as they continue to provide high-level legal counsel in this case."

His opposing counsel had no problem chiming in about Campbell's arrest.

"The whole thing makes me ashamed to be an attorney," said Stephen Diaco, representing Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.

Diaco said Clem's lawyers were preparing for testimony all night, "and now, we're delayed because Phil Campbell was getting his drink on and decided to drink and drive again."

Campbell was, in fact, arrested on a DUI charge in 2008, records show. His blood alcohol level taken at the scene was nearly double the state limit of .08.Records show he pleaded no contest and was found guilty.

As Schnitt left the courtroom, Diaco called out to him.

"MJ!" he said. "Happy birthday!"

Yes, it really was his birthday. Read more

___________________________________________________________________

Citing setup, prosecutors drop DUI charge against Todd 'MJ' Schnitt's attorney

Citing setup, prosecutors drop DUI charge against Todd 'MJ' Schnitt's attorney
Tampa Bay Times
By Sue Carlton, Jessica Vander Velde and
Curtis Krueger, Times Staff Writers
July 29, 2013

TAMPA — At the cozy downtown bar that January night, the text messages and cellphone calls flew fast and furious — more than 200 before the evening was over.

A paralegal texted her bosses even as she flirted with a lawyer who didn't know she worked for the very firm he faced off against that day in court. One of those bosses called his friend on the police force, who sat outside Malio's Prime Steakhouse restaurant and bar for nearly three hours, the two texting back and forth 92 times.

In the middle of it sat lawyer C. Philip Campbell Jr. — who didn't plan on driving that night because his downtown apartment was two blocks away — unaware he was about to get popped for DUI.

And after Campbell was taken to jail came another call: to radio show host Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, the defendant Campbell had opposed in court.

In the end, the tale told by the calls and texts that night helped persuade prosecutors to drop the drunken driving charge against Campbell, 65, and use words like "collaboration" and "organized effort" to refer to his arrest in a report issued Monday.

"The intensity of the communication," said William Loughery, a prosecutor with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which was called in to investigate, "was jaw-dropping."

"It is now absolutely clear that Mr. Campbell was the victim of a devious setup," said his attorney, John Fitzgibbons. "And all honest and ethical police officers and lawyers should be deeply troubled over what happened."

The prosecutors' report pulled the lid off a case that has been the talk of the legal community and beyond.

Tampa police Chief Jane Castor backed off her previously unequivocal support of the officers involved, releasing a written statement: "It is clear that Sgt. Ray Fernandez utilized bad judgment when he failed to remove himself from this investigation. He should have assigned it to an officer who did not have a personal connection to the tip."

She declined questions because the FBI is investigating.

Greg Kehoe, with the law firm Greenberg Traurig, released this statement on behalf of Adams & Diaco, the law firm representing Clem: "We respect the system and the decision made today by the State Attorney's office as part of the process. Given that investigations into this matter are continuing, we cannot comment further at this time."

Clem made his own remarks on Twitter: "This setup nonsense has nothing to do with me or the fact that a jury of my peers found in my favor vs Todd Schnitt. This was just another weak attempt from the losers to justify why they got their a-- kicked in court by me/jay diaco."

Todd Foster, attorney for the paralegal, Melissa Personius, said, "There are assumptions and conclusions made in that report that lack foundation. . . . I just think it's a very unfair portrayal."

It all started with a five-year civil defamation suit between competing radio jocks Bubba the Love Sponge and "MJ" Schnitt. During the dispute, lawyerly advocacy turned to animosity.

Adams & Diaco attorneys repeatedly filed motions to get Campbell off the case. None worked.

The findings released Monday contain new details of what happened that night, which was during the trial's second week in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

About 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23, a Wednesday, Campbell stopped by Malio's, which is walking distance from his office and apartment. He previously had a DUI arrest.

Personius, a paralegal for Adams & Diaco, was already there. She and a friend walked by Campbell as they were leaving.

She soon called her boss Robert Adams from the Fly Bar and said she could go back to Malio's "if they need anything."

Personius, then 30, returned to the bar and sat with Campbell, then 64. She ordered wine and called lawyer Adam Filthaut with the Adams & Diaco firm.

At 6:31 p.m., Filthaut called his close friend Sgt. Ray Fernandez — saying Campbell was at Malio's, warning that he was drunk and going to drive.

Fernandez then staked out Malio's and had another officer sit in a nearby parking garage.

But Campbell was not drunk when the tip came. It was still early, and the report states that "Campbell was likely having his first drink and would later be walking home."

Over the next two hours, Personius lied about where she worked, flirted and ordered drinks. She bought Campbell a vodka cocktail and shot of Southern Comfort.

She also stayed in touch with Adams & Diaco lawyers to such a degree that Loughery wrote the "extraordinary amount of time and effort" makes it clear that Personius was in an undercover role and made sure "all the parties knew exactly what was transpiring virtually every minute."

During one 14-minute window starting at 7:05 p.m., she called Adams and texted Filthaut and Diaco. Adams called Diaco. Diaco called Filthaut and Adams and texted Personius. Filthaut texted Sgt. Fernandez four times and Personius twice and called her five times. Filthaut called Adams twice, and Fernandez texted Filthaut four times.

None of those texts was saved.

At 9:30 p.m., Personius and Campbell left Malio's together. He drove her car. Fernandez pulled him over five blocks away. Tampa officer Timothy McGinnis did a field sobriety test.

In a police cruiser's dashboard camera video, it appears that Campbell is not intoxicated, the report states. His speech and balance seem fine. The officers' credibility would be questioned in court, the report states.

The next day, Clem's attorneys told reporters that Campbell's arrest was appalling.

Loughery called their bluff in his report.

"The public relations mantra from Adams & Diaco has been that they were only helping get a drunk driver off the streets," he wrote. "This rings hollow when you consider the time, effort and subterfuge used by them to get Campbell on the streets." Read more

Corruption, Mismanagement, Nepotism In Tampa

 

Corruption, Mismanagement, Nepotism In The City Of Tampa
A Commentary By John Love A Resident Of The City Of Tampa And Community Activist
March 1, 2004


CAUTION: This reads like an episode of the Sopranos

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory P. Holder

Judge Holder

Gregory Holder was elected county judge in 1994. In 1996 Judge Holder was elected Circuit Judge for Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, Hillsborough County, Florida. His latest assignment was in the family law division. Judge Holder has a reputation for speaking his mind and for being extremely open with the press. He has the attitude that the entire justice system belongs to the people, that there should be nothing to hide and that the public should know what is going on. Judge Holder refused to be drawn into "inside politics" by dishonest Hillsborough judges. Judge Holder was bent on rooting out and ridding the court system of corruption. Read more here 

Florida Supreme Court: $70,000 to Judge Holder

On September 15, 2009 the Supreme Court of Florida, Case No. SC03-1171, ordered entry of judgment for Judge Gregory P. Holder for recovery of costs from the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) in the amount of $70,000 for successfully defending Inquiry No. 02-487. Judge Holder had attempted to recover $1.77 million in legal fees from the JQC. It was the second failed Inquiry of Judge Holder by the JQC. It is widely alleged that the Inquires of Judge Holder were retaliatory for his role as a cooperating witness in a federal criminal investigation of corruption at the Hillsborough County Courthouse. 

Florida Supreme Court, $70K Judgment (PDF), Judge Holder

Florida Supreme Court Order $70,000 to Judge Holder
Filed September 15, 2009
2009, Filed_09-15-2009_Order_Costs.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [41.3 KB]
Judge Holder’s Initial Brief To Recover Attorney’s Fees
Filed February 6, 2006
2006, Filed_02-06-2006_HolderBrief.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [78.8 KB]
Judge Holder’s Memorandum of Law in Support of Award of Attorney’s Fees
Filed August 19, 2005
2005, Filed_08-19-2005_MemoLawinSupporto[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [58.3 KB]
Judge Holder’s Motion For Award of $1,779.691.81 in Attorney’s Fees
Filed July 28, 2005
2005, Filed_07-28-2005_MotionAwardFees.p[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [209.3 KB]
Judge Holder’s Motion To Tax Costs of $140,870
Filed July 28, 2005
2005, Filed_07-28-2005_MotionTaxCosts.pd[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [147.5 KB]

Inquiry Concerning a Judge

INQUIRY CONCERNING A JUDGE NO. 01-303


Inquiry No. 01-303, Supreme Court Case No.: SC02-33, Notice of Formal Charges allege Judge Holder failed to disclosed in his application for the position of United States District Judge for the Middle District of Florida a 1998 admonishment by JQC Counsel McDonald and JQC Chairman Judge Goshorn for remarks Holder made to a local newspaper concerning a recent decision of the Second District Court of Appeal which had reversed a ruling by Judge Holder.

Judge Alvarez

On other occasions Judge Holder was cautioned by then 13th Circuit Chief Judge Alvarez about the impropriety of certain public remarks Holder made concerning the Thirteenth Circuit Judiciary. Judge Alvarez advised Holder that complaints had been made to him by others concerning Holder’s inappropriate public remarks. In February 2001 Judge Holder met with JQC Chairman Judge Wolf in Tampa and advised of a complaint against Holder  over an incident during a hearing in chambers where Holder became upset at one or more of the attorneys and threw handcuffs on his desk in a threatening manner. Judge Wolf said such conduct is viewed inappropriate by the JQC and Holder was cautioned against engaging in such conduct in the future. The JQC case was dismissed June 6, 2002 by the Supreme Court of Florida. It is widely alleged that the Inquires of Judge Holder were retaliatory for his role as a cooperating witness in a federal criminal investigation of corruption at the Hillsborough County Courthouse.

INQUIRY CONCERNING A JUDGE NO. 02-487


Inquiry No. 02-487, Supreme Court Case No.: SC03-1171. The JQC filed Notice of Formal Charges against Judge Holder July 18, 2003 alleging Judge Holder plagiarized 10 pages of a 21 page  research report to the Faculty of the Air War College Directorate of Nonresident Studies, Air University, titled "An Analysis of the Anglo-American Combined Bomber Offensive in Europe During World War II, 1942-45." At the time Judge Holder held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force Reserve.

During the trial, Judge Holder presented compelling evidence that the purported Holder paper was fabricated to retaliate against him for participating in the courthouse corruption investigation. [Bartoszak Tr. pp. 7, 12-13, at App. 3.] On June 23, 2005, the Hearing Panel of the JQC voted unanimously to dismiss the charges against Judge Holder. [Order of Dismissal, at App. 4.] Research indicates that this is the first trial defense verdict against the JQC in almost twenty years.

In 1999, Judge Holder reported to former Chief Judge Dennis Alvarez that certain judges were engaging in improper conduct. [Nasco Tr. pp. 17-19, at App. 8.] In July of 2000, Judge Holder’s bailiff, Sylvia Gay, discovered former Judge Robert Bonanno in Judge Holder’s chambers, after normal business hours, while Judge Holder was out of state on Air Force Reserve duty.

Judge Bonanno

Judge Bonanno left Respondent’s chambers carrying unidentified documents. [Id.] Judge Holder reported this incident, and a law enforcement investigation ensued. [Id. at pp. 102, 105-07.] Ultimately, impeachment proceedings were commenced against Judge Bonanno and he resigned from office.

During 2001 and 2002, Judge Holder cooperated with the FBI in the courthouse corruption investigation. [Bartoszak Tr. pp. 4-5, at App. 3.] Because of Judge Holder’s cooperation, the investigation’s targets had motive and resources to seek retribution against him. [Id. at pp. 7-8] Indeed, these targets faced not just loss of position but potential incarceration. [Id.]

actor portrayal

Detective Bartoszak testified at trial that the courthouse corruption investigation team was concerned that Judge Holder’s activities were being monitored by targets of the investigation. Judge Holder was advised by federal law enforcement agents to carry a weapon, and he was provided with a secure cell phone to communicate with the authorities. [Bartoszak Tr. pp. 7-8, at App. 3.]

In early 2002, in the midst of the courthouse corruption investigation, Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey Del Fuoco, who also served in the United States Army Reserve, claimed that an unmarked manila envelope was anonymously placed under his office door at the Army Reserve Headquarters in St. Petersburg. [Del Fuoco Tr., pp. 8-9, at App. 10.] Del Fuoco testified that the unmarked envelope contained an unsigned typewritten note to the effect that "I thought you would be interested in this," or "something should be done about this." [Id. at p. 10.] The note was purportedly signed "A concerned citizen," or "A concerned taxpayer." The note allegedly accompanied a copy of the purported Holder paper and a copy of the Hoard paper (the "Papers"). [Id. at pp. 10-12.]

The United States Attorney’s Office did not provide the papers to the JQC until December of 2002, approximately 11 months after it received them. Tellingly, the referral to the JQC occurred just weeks after Judge Holder wrote a letter to the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility complaining about the lack of progress in the courthouse corruption investigation. [Bartoszak Tr. p. 8, at App. 3.] However, by that time, the purported note and envelope had inexplicably disappeared from the file in the United States Attorney’s Office. [Del Fuoco Tr., pp. 50-52, at App. 10.] Consequently, the only evidentiary documents received by the JQC were the purported Holder paper and the Hoard paper.

 

It is widely alleged that the Inquires of Judge Holder were retaliatory for his role as a cooperating witness in a federal criminal investigation of corruption at the Hillsborough County Courthouse.

Read the Grand Jury Presentment

An Investigation Into Judicial Misconduct in Hillsborough County
Grand Jury Finds Judges Had Sex in Hillsborough Court
Presentment finds scandal, still no indictment
2000, 12-08-00, Grand Jury Presentment, [...]
Adobe Acrobat document [470.0 KB]

An Investigation Into Judicial Misconduct

Judge Ficarrotta

A grand jury presentment of An Investigation Into Judicial Misconduct In Hillsborough County of December 8, 2000 and the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) Inquiry Concerning Circuit Judge Robert H. Bonanno, JQC Case No. 00-261, showed how the unauthorized entry by Circuit Judge Robert Bonanno into the office of Circuit Judge Gregory Holder led to the revelation that Circuit Judge Gasper Ficarrotta conducted an extramarital affair with Hillsborough County Bailiff Tara Pisano which lasted for more than a year, and that sexual relations occurred between them in the courthouse during regular business hours while jury trials were conducted in the next room. Grand jury testimony showed Judge Ficarrotta wanted to install a "stripper pole" in his chambers so Bailiff Pisano could perform for him, that Ficarrotta wore a Pisano’s thong in chambers, and that Ficarrotta exposed his genitals in chambers. Ficarrotta offered his resignation after the affair became public.

Bailiff Pisano

Judge Holder also alerted investigators to an incident in which Bailiff Tara Pisano accused her husband, sheriff's Cpl. Carmine Pisano, of threatening to kill Ficarrotta in response to the affair. The Sheriff's Office made no report of that incident. The grand jury testimony shows that Carmine Pisano’s threat to kill Ficarrotta was made in the presence of other officers when Pisano took his service pistol out of its holster and left the room saying he was going to kill Judge Ficarrotta. "It's not against the law to threaten anybody except the president of the United States, unless there's an overt act to substantiate it," said Sheriff Cal Henderson. "We didn't do an investigation because one was not needed."

The grand jury found evidence of unlawful election campaigning by Hillsborough County Corporal Michael Sheehan, and secret Judicial Qualifications Commission investigation.

Bailiff Tara Pisano saw large amounts of money in Judge Ficarrotta's office, including a cash-filled security box. Pisano saw Ficarrotta solicit and receive money from lawyers for Sheriff Cal Henderson's 2000 election campaign. FDLE agents discovered that Judge Ficarrotta and Sheehan share a safe deposit box at a Bank of America branch on Davis Islands. The report does indicate what the safe deposit box was used for. Judges are ethically forbidden from raising money for political candidates.

Judge Bonanno

The FDLE documents also indicate for the first time the five-year extramarital affair between Judge Bonanno and his former court clerk, Joan Helms. In an interview with Special Prosecutor Jerry Hill and an FDLE agent, Helms, 48, said her sexual relationship with Bonanno began in 1995 and ended in 2000. Helms was the court clerk assigned to Bonanno in the civil trial division during 1998. Sexual encounters with Bonanno occurred during the evenings or on weekends at Helms' home in north Tampa.

Also of note and apart from the investigation, Myra Gomez was Judge Holder’s assistant, and married to County Judge Frank Gomez, first cousin to then-Chief Judge Dennis Alvarez. David A. Rowland was and still serves as Court Counsel. Mike Bridenback has served as Trial Court Administrator since 1994, except for a one-month retirement in 2009 so he could collect a $312,351 lump sum retirement payment and a $4,744 monthly pension, then return to the position at the minimum salary of $105,000. Bridenback was rehired by current Chief Judge Manuel Menendez, Jr. who succeeded Alvarez.

Panel tries to keep files secret

Judge Holder

Panel tries to keep files secret
St. Petersburg Times
By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
January 31, 2002

At issue are Judicial Qualifications Commission records about Hillsborough Judge Gregory Holder.

TAMPA -- The state agency that regulates Florida judges has hired noted attorney Barry Richard to make sure records about Hillsborough Judge Gregory Holder stay secret.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission hired Richard, who represented President George W. Bush during the 2000 election recount, to fight newspaper requests to inspect records on Holder.

The JQC charged Holder in January with giving a false or misleading answer on an application to become a federal judge. The JQC alleged that Holder did not disclose that the JQC's chairman had spoken with him about unspecified complaints.

But the JQC's publicly-filed charges do not explain what the complaints were or how the JQC handled them. The JQC special counsel on the case did not return calls seeking comment.

Read more here

Report: Web of scandal at Hillsborough courthouse

Records describe accusations of sexual affairs and secret safe deposit boxes.

St. Petersburg Times

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD and JEFF TESTERMAN

TAMPA -- A months-long inquiry into the Hillsborough County courthouse has found accusations ranging from sexual affairs in a judge's chambers to death threats and secret safe deposit boxes.

 

A grand jury report of the matter remains sealed, but investigative records released Monday suggest a broad web of scandal.


The records show that Circuit Judge Gregory Holder told investigators of conversations he had with bailiff Tara Pisano, who made the following claims:


Pisano and Circuit Judge Gasper Ficarrotta had sex in Ficarrotta's chambers while Holder conducted jury trials in the next room. Ficarrotta offered his resignation after the affair became public.


Pisano saw large amounts of money in Ficarrotta's office, including a cash-filled security box.


Pisano saw Ficarrotta solicit and receive money from lawyers for Sheriff Cal Henderson's 2000 election campaign. Judges are ethically forbidden from raising money for political candidates.


Holder also alerted investigators to an incident in which Pisano accused her husband, sheriff's Cpl. Carmine Pisano, of threatening to kill Ficarrotta in response to the affair. Read more here, and support the St. Petersburg Times.

Judge Holder Seeks $1.92 Million Defending Self

Judge seeks $1.92-million in costs defending self

St. Petersburg Times

By CANDACE RONDEAUX

Published July 26, 2005

 

TAMPA - Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder says he racked up a $1.92-million tab fighting charges that he plagiarized an Air Force research paper. Now, a month after the case was dismissed, he wants the Judicial Qualifications Commission to foot the bill.


"I've paid considerable sums and so has my family," Holder said.


On Monday, Holder's attorneys filed a motion asking the JQC to pay the judge's legal bill. Holder hired attorneys from three separate law firms a little more than two years ago to defend against charges he plagiarized a 1998 research paper for a course at MacDill Air Force Base. His attorneys deposed dozens of witnesses and called several experts to the stand during the June JQC hearing.


Holder said he's personally shelled out about $100,000 for his legal defense. It's just a fraction of what he owes, but it represents about 75 percent of his nearly $135,000 annual salary. In a 2001 financial statement, the judge listed his net worth at $265,680. Read more here

Judge Holder Awarded $70,000 by FL Supreme Court

Tampa judge to be reimbursed $70,000 in plagerism case

The Tampa Tribune

By Tom Brennan

September 25, 2009

 

TAMPA - The Florida Supreme Court has ordered the state to reimburse $70,000 to Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder for his expenses in successfully defending himself against plagiarism charges.


"I'm pleased this final chapter has ended with the Judicial Qualifications Commission paying costs that I incurred successfully clearing my name and reputation," Holder said today.


The seven-judge high court panel this month entered a judgment ratifying an agreement that Holder's attorneys struck with the state's JQC in August.


The JQC cleared Holder in 2005 of charges he plagiarized a research paper about eight years earlier. The dismissal was unanimous.


Holder attempted to recover $1.77 million in legal fees he spent defending himself. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that it didn't have authority to award such fees, but justices said the state constitution would allow for payment of costs.


Holder asked for $140,870 in expenses in 2006. Read more here

Conflict in the Courthouse

Conflict in the Courthouse


The Hillsborough County Courthouse has been rocked by a series of scandals involving judges, bailiffs and clerks. The incidents have ranged from torrid extramarital affairs, to a judge being found prowling inside a colleague's empty chambers. Some associated with the courthouse have been investigated by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission and a special grand jury and several judges have retired or stepped down. Read more here.

The old courthouse

Citizens for Judicial Accountability

Courthouse Inquiry Ends With No Sign Of Corruption

 

By Elaine Silvestrini and Thomas W. Krause
The Tampa Tribune
September 8, 2006


TAMPA - No officials at the Hillsborough County Courthouse will be charged with any crimes at the conclusion of a lengthy investigation into possible corruption.


Carl Whitehead, special agent in charge of the Tampa office of the FBI, said: "I am very confident that we have conducted a thorough and exhaustive investigation into these allegations. We were not able to substantiate those allegations. I believe the public should feel comfortable and have a sense of confidence that they can deal with their state court system. I have no information that would indicate otherwise." Read more here

Hillsborough County, Florida (Wikipedia)

 

Hillsborough County is a county located in the U.S. state of Florida. The 2000 population was 998,948. In 2007, the Hillsborough County Planning Commission conducted a population estimate that put the county's population at 1,204,770. Its county seat is Tampa, Florida. Hillsborough County is the largest county in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area and the fourth most populous in Florida. Read more here

Clerk's office is sued over job

Pat Frank, Clerk

A reservist should return to her former position, the Justice Department says

St. Petersburg Times

By KEVIN GRAHAM
October 16, 2007


TAMPA - The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the Hillsborough county clerk, saying the clerk's office denied an Army reservist the same job and pay she had before she left for active duty.

 

The department's Civil Rights Division filed a federal complaint Friday against Hillsborough County Clerk Pat Frank on behalf of Tracey Y. Marshall, a first sergeant in the Army Reserve. The suit claims the clerk's office demoted Marshall after she returned from active duty and began fighting for her old job.


"We have done nothing to violate the law," Frank said Monday through a spokeswoman. "We respect our men and women in the armed forces and the rights they have upon their return to private life."

An attorney for the clerk's office was out of town and not available to answer questions about Marshall's work history or pay, a spokeswoman said.


The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 ensures that reservists are reinstated with the seniority, status and pay they would have obtained had they remained continuously employed by their civilian employer.


"This nation values the sacrifices made by its military reservists. No service member should be disadvantaged in the workplace for answering a call to duty," said Rena J. Comisac, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, in a news release. Read more here and support the St. Petersburg Times.

County Sued Over Reservist's Transfer

representative soldier

County Sued Over Reservist's Transfer

The Tampa Tribune

By ELAINE SILVESTRINI

October 16, 2007


TAMPA - The Department of Justice has filed a suit against the Hillsborough County Circuit Court clerk on behalf of an employee it says was demoted when she was called to serve in the Army Reserves.


The complaint filed in U.S. District Court alleges Tracy Y. Marshall worked as a supervisor of the Court Clerk II Section when she was called to active duty in August 2005.


When she returned that October, she was transferred from the Felony Department to its Traffic Department at a lower rate of pay.


Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, employers are required to re-employ returning reservists in the same positions they would have held had they not been called to active duty.


Circuit Court Clerk Pat Frank issued a statement through spokeswoman Linda Goldstein: 'We have done nothing to violate the law. We respect our men and women in the armed forces and the rights they have upon their return to private life.'


'This nation values the sacrifices made by its military reservists. No service member should be disadvantaged in the workplace for answering a call to duty,' Rena J. Comisac, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.


Since 2004, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has brought 16 complaints under the law involved in this case. Read more here and support the Tampa Tribune.

Marshall v. Pat Frank, Clerk of The Circuit Court

Tracey Y. Marshall joined the Army Reserve in September, 1992. Since joining the Army Reserve, Marshall has been activated several times to full-time military duty for varying lengths of time. Marshall held the rank of First Sergeant at the time of the lawsuit

Pat Frank was represented by Thomas M. Gonzalez of Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing, PA, Tampa, Florida.

Tracey Marshall was represented by HECTOR F. RUIZ, JR., United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Employment Litigation Section. Read the complaint here, Marshall v. Pat Frank, Clerk of The Circuit Court CASE NO: 8:07-cv-1862-T-27TGW,
United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division.

Complaint, Marshall v. Pat Frank
2007, 10-12-07, US DOJ complaint.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [326.1 KB]
Settlement Agreement
2008, 08-20-08, Settlement Agreement.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [282.3 KB]
PACER Civil Docket
PACER, civil docket.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [242.0 KB]

Cost to the taxpayers

According to the billing records, Pat Frank paid $10,477.06 of taxpayer money to the law firm Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing, PA. This is in addition to $2,500 Frank paid Tracey Marshall to settle claims of violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). The cost to taxpayers was $12,977.06.

Billing records, Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez
All Thompson Sizemore invoices, 25 pages[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [1.3 MB]

Hillsborough clerk of court employees get $1,500 bonus

Pat Frank, Clerk

Hillsborough clerk of court employees get $1,500 bonus
The Tampa Tribune
by Mike Salinero
June 14, 2011

TAMPA -- Like thousands of other state and county employees, workers at the Hillsborough County Clerk of Circuit Court's office are looking at less take-home pay this year.

Unlike most of those other public employees, however, the men and women who work for Hillsborough Clerk of Court Pat Frank are each getting a $1,500 bonus to soften the blow.
Money for the one-time bonus came from the settlement of a long-running dispute between the federal government and the state of Florida over child support payments. Frank's office, which processes child support payments in Hillsborough for the state Department of Revenue, received $1.1 million from the settlement.

Frank said using the settlement money for employee bonuses was an easy decision. Morale at the clerk's office has been low in recent years because of layoffs and unpaid furlough days, she said. And the 784 employees remaining after the layoffs are doing the same work that 931 workers did in 2008. Read more here

Hillsborough Clerk Pat Frank is giving workers bonuses that cost taxpayers more than $1 million

Pat Frank, Clerk

Hillsborough Clerk Pat Frank is giving workers bonuses that cost taxpayers more than $1 million
WTSP.com 10 News
by Mike Deeson
June 13, 2011

Tampa, Florida -- Every employee of the Hillsborough Clerk's Office will receive a $1,500 bonus. With 800 employees in the office, that comes to $1.2 million of public money.

Pat Frank, the Clerk of Court says she decided to give the bonuses, because the county was awarded the money following a legal action taking by the clerk against the federal government.
Frank says because the rules say if you give the bonus to one, it has to be given to everyone in the office. That means even the 60 people in the clerk's office who make more than $75,000 will also partake in the windfall.

Other county employees are not happy, as most have not seen a raise in four years, they had to endure furloughs and layoffs and now they have to pay three percent of their salary into the Florida Retirement System. Read more here

Every worker in Hillsborough Clerk of Court Pat Frank's Office will receive a $1,500 bonus, costing taxpayers $1.2 million.

Hillsborough Clerk of Courts Pat Frank plans to dump a $3.5 million dollar computer system

Pat Frank, Clerk

Hillsborough Clerk of Courts Pat Frank plans to dump a $3.5 million dollar computer system
WTSP.com 10 News
by Mike Deeson
June 21, 2011

Tampa, Florida -- It is a Hillsborough County office that is accused of ticket fixing, giving out a bonus to every employee and now there is more controversy surrounding the Hillsborough Clerk of Court Office. The Office is already planning to dump a traffic computer system that has been on line only since last July.

In her "in house" video call "Frank Talks", Clerk of Court Pat Frank told her employees there would be some technology changes that include implementing what is called the Odyssey System to handle traffic tickets.

That announcement means that the $3.5 million HCTS system, which hasn't been on-line for a full year, is going to be replaced by a $6 million Odyssey system, which handles other clerk work.

We asked Frank if they had anticipated the old system would have lasted more than a couple of years and she said no she didn't. According to Frank there have already been some failures in the with the HCTS system.

But the change surprised some in the office.

Even some employees are asking why Frank would hire the husband of one of the people forced out in the ticket fixing scandal to be one of her new three Chief Deputies at a six figure salary. Frank admits she told Doug Bakke, as she promoted him to his new executive position, that this is going to be uncomfortable for both of them, but he would be measured on his own merits. While Frank says it is uncomfortable, she says she doesn't gauge people by their relatives. Read more here

Attorney Stacy Frank draws the anger of Hillsborough parents fighting cell towers on school grounds

Stacy Frank

Attorney Stacy Frank draws the anger of Hillsborough parents fighting cell towers on school grounds
St. Petersburg Times
by Rodney Thrash
May 21, 2009

 

Frank, 54, is Georgetown and Florida State educated, divorced, the eldest daughter of one of Tampa's well-known political families. Her mother is Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank; her father, retired 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Richard Frank. Their daughter got her start as a judicial clerk. She entered private practice in 1984, specializing in commercial real estate, became corporate counsel for TECO Energy in 1986, ran unsuccessfully for county judge in 1990, and then opened her own practice in 1992.

 

TAMPA — Parents call her the enemy, point out that she has no children and say she's in bed with the wireless industry.

"The real money-maker in this money-making scheme," parent Brenda Kocher calls Stacy Frank.

Over the past two years, Frank's company has been entrusted with developing cell towers on Hillsborough public school properties. So far, Collier Enterprises II has helped erect seven of them and has negotiated agreements with cell phone providers that has generated badly needed cash for the district.

Flush with thousands of dollars in rent from the towers, principals have replaced old computers with new ones, bought printer cartridges and sent teachers and students on field trips.

But as more and more towers have gone up, Frank has become the flash point for parents who worry there's still too many unknowns about towers and their risks.

All school year long, the fears have sparked heated community meetings, the creation of an anti-cell tower parent group and calls for a moratorium on towers. Read more here

Hillsborough County circuit judge Tracy Sheehan talks about DUI arrest

Circuit Judge Gregory Holder asked how many of the onetime no-shows would report for jury duty in January; most raised their hands.

Judge gives lecture, but no fine or jail time, to no-show jurors
Tampa Bay Times
by Jodie Tillman
November 5, 2012

TAMPA

They skipped court last month, but most of them didn't dare do it again Friday morning.

Nearly 165 people filed into Courtroom No. 1, no one knowing if Circuit Judge Gregory Holder would fine or jail them for failing to show up for jury duty last month.

They waited in silence: the woman wearing pearls and a sweater set, the woman wearing tennis shoes and sweatpants; the man with his face in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the man with his chin against his chest, eyes shut.

Every one of them had an excuse: The summons went to their mother's place instead of theirs. They threw it away with the trash. They had an important work assignment. They forgot.

Someone's cellphone rang. "You don't want your cellphone going off today," a bailiff barked.

In walked Holder, who could punish them with a $100 fine or a six-month jail sentence for contempt of court.

He was so infuriated last month when he had 387 no-shows for jury selection that he issued orders requiring them to appear Friday and answer for skipping jury duty. Read more here

Judge Gregory Holder scolds, but does not jail or fine no-show jurors

Judge Gregory Holder scolds, but does not jail or fine no-show jurors
10 News
by Eric Glasser
November 4, 2011

Tampa, Florida -- More than 160 people who skipped jury duty last month got a stern lecture in a Hillsborough Circuit courtroom on Friday.

The judge had threatened to send some of them to jail in order to set an example. For some, the slammer may still be an option.

There were 257 who were no-shows for jury duty on October 3rd, 2011. But threatened with fines and possible jail time, more than 160 of those same people packed into Judge Greg Holder's courtroom Friday morning.

The judge was so livid, he summoned them to his courtroom to explain why they had failed to perform their civic duty.

In some cases it was a simple mistake -- a wrong address or some other misunderstanding. But in a few instances, jurors had outright lied.

Holder singled-out a man name of Dovay Compton, who according to the judge, faked military service as an excuse for not showing up for jury duty.

"Is there any lawful reason I shouldn't take you into custody today?" Judge Holder asked of Dovay Compton. Read more here

Without an attorney, boy falters before judge

 

 

Honorable Richard A. Nielsen
Circuit Court Judge, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit
800 East Twiggs Street
Tampa, Florida 33602

Without an attorney, boy falters before judge

KATHRYN WEXLER

St. Petersburg Times, May 28, 2002

The 16-year-old boy sat before the Hillsborough County judge, asking for an attorney. He didn't understand what was going on, he kept saying.

Juan Carlos Elias was in the middle of a restitution hearing. He had pleaded guilty to stealing one car and burglarizing another. Reimbursing the victim was the issue at hand now.

But Elias said he didn't know what restitution meant. His frustrated mother repeatedly rose from the first row, instructing her son in Spanish.

Judge Richard Nielsen, relatively new to the bench, had her tossed out of his courtroom. Read more here.

Judge Nielsen showed poor judgment and a striking inability to balance competing rights

St. Petersburg Times, May 29, 2002
EDITORIAL

Judge should have known better

What was Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen thinking when he forced a 16-year-old to represent himself in court? Juveniles in Florida are entitled to a lawyer. The defendant, Juan Carlos Elias, whose family is Puerto Rican, clearly showed he had trouble understanding the rules and language of court procedure. What teenager wouldn't? Nielsen showed poor judgment and a striking inability to balance competing rights.

Read more in the PDF story.

EDITORIAL Judge should have known better
St. Petersburg Times, May 29, 2002
2002, 05-29-02, Judge Neilsen, EDITORIAL[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [18.1 KB]
Wexler

Teen who defended self gets attorney
by KATHRYN WEXLER

St. Petersburg Times, On May 31, 2002

Evangeline Castillo returned to the Hillsborough County Courthouse on Thursday, gripping documents she hoped would prove that she could not afford an attorney for her 16-year-old son. Among them was a $198 utility bill and her brother's death certificate. The man she would have to persuade was Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen. Read more in the PDF story.

Teen who defended self gets attorney
by KATHRYN WEXLER
St. Petersburg Times, On May 31, 2002
2002, 05-31-02, Judge Neilsen, Teen who [...]
Adobe Acrobat document [20.0 KB]

Hillsborough FL Judges Work Part-time, Get Full Pay

Some Hillsborough Co., Florida judges apparently only work part-time hours while collecting a full-time salary of $142,178 plus benefits. This came to my attention June 15, 2010 during the 13th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) interviews to fill the vacancy created when Judge Black was appointed to the 2dDCA. I attended the interviews as a nonlawyer observer. The JNC interviews are open to the public. The JNC was so concerned about judicial workloads that applicants were specifically asked what hours they planned to keep if appointed. 

Applicant Ryan Christopher Rodems (left) described to the JNC criticism he heard about Hillsborough judges leaving court early on Fridays. The situation was so pervasive, Rodems told the JNC, that one could "fire a bullet" in the Hillsborough courthouse it was so empty. On the left is Rodems’ photograph submitted with his application for judge. The photo is not recent and looks about ten years old. (Rodems is heavier and balding now)

Read the email between JNC Chair Pedro Bajo and Neil Gillespie discussing Rodems’ "fire a bullet" comment, provided below in PDF. Read more on the Justice Network

Email between JNC Chair Pedro Bajo and Neil Gillespie discussing Rodems’ "fire a bullet" comment, Jul-05-10
2010, 07-05-10, email, Pedro Bajo to NJG[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [44.7 KB]

Would you like this garbage can moved closer in case you have the baby?

I witnessed the following while attending a Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) interview in Tampa June 15, 2010 as a civilian observer. This was the 13th Circuit JNC, Hillsborough County, Florida. One commission member asked an applicant for judge if the applicant had seen any behavior from a judge in court that was unprofessional.

The applicant responded that a judge said to a woman who was obviously pregnant and about to give birth, words to the effect "Would you like this garbage can moved closer to you in case you have the baby?" The judge was referring to a trash can in the courtroom.

The JNC asked this question of a number of applicants. Some applicants responded with examples of judicial misconduct. Others applicants were evasive or brushed-off the question. My notes show that applicants who described bad behavior by judges to the JNC were nominated at a rate lower than applicants who did not describe bad behavior by judges to the JNC. Initially I dismissed this as coincidence.

But in hindsight, and with the benefit of subsequent information, in my opinion it is possible that this question is used as a screening tool to eliminate applicants critical of sitting judges, to ensure that nominees, if appointed, will be team players and look the other way if they see another judge engage in misconduct.

Read the email between JNC Chair Pedro Bajo and Neil Gillespie discussing the ‘garbage can’ comment, provided below in PDF. Read more on the Justice Network

Email between JNC Chair Pedro Bajo and Neil Gillespie discussing the ‘garbage can’ comment, July 1, 2010
2010, 07-01-10, email, Pedro Bajo to NJG[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [43.0 KB]

Suicide of Judge Harry Lee Coe, State Attorney

Harry Lee Coe

Disbelief and shock mark associates' reactions

St. Petersburg Times

By ANGELA MOORE

July 14, 2000

TAMPA -- "He wasn't the type" to commit suicide, grieving childhood friend Tony Cunningham said Thursday. "But I guess none of us know if we're the type until we face it."

Harry Lee Coe III's death Thursday, and the fact he took his own life, evoked stunned reactions from people in Tampa and across the state.

"For three decades he was a fixture at the Hillsborough County Courthouse," said Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada, who interned for Coe while in law school in 1972. "It's hard to imagine that courthouse without him. . . . It's just a real loss for all of us." Read more here.

Suicide of Harry Lee Coe, Hillsborough State Attorney
Report by Pinellas State Attorney Bernie McCabe
2000, 11-27-00, Bernie McCabe SA, Report[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [218.6 KB]

Portrait of an addiction

Portrait of an Addiction

St. Petersburg Times

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
December 3, 2000

 

Privately, Harry Lee Coe finally admitted he had a problem. But he feared the media and political enemies.


TAMPA -- Harry Lee Coe never stopped haunting the dog tracks, even as the last of his luck leaked through his fingers.

For years, many close enough to know his weakness for the greyhounds just shrugged. They figured a man so intensely private, who shunned alcohol and lived in the twin crucibles of public life and the Hillsborough courthouse, needed some valve for all that pent-up pressure.

Nobody can pinpoint when the gambling habit of Hillsborough County's top prosecutor degenerated into a full-blown compulsion, culminating in a six-figure debt, a web of lies, and suicide in July. But his second wife said his addiction was so bad by 1986 that it helped ruin their marriage. Read more here.

actor portrayal

Lawyer Throws Coffee on Counsel During Mediation

Jonathan Alpert

A Tampa Police Department report dated June 5, 2000, case number 00-42020, alleges Jonathan Alpert committed battery, Florida Statutes §784.03, upon attorney Arnold Levine by throwing hot coffee on him. At the time Mr. Levine was a 68 year-old senior citizen. The report states: "The victim and defendant are both attorneys and were representing their clients in a mediation hearing. The victim alleges that the defendant began yelling, and intentionally threw the contents of a 20 oz. cup of hot coffee which struck him in the chest staining his shirt. A request for prosecution was issued for battery." The matter was later dropped. Alpert’s law partner Ryan C. Rodems, Esq. is listed as a witness in the report. See the PDF below for the TPD report.

Tampa Police Incident Report, lawyer throws coffee
2000, 06-05-00, Tampa Police incident re[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [1.2 MB]

The coffee-throwing incident rises from Alpert’s class-action lawsuit against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on behalf of fans suing over seating arrangements in the new stadium. Alpert later accused the Bucs of extortion. The Bucs lawyer Arnold Levine sued Alpert in state court after the coffee-throwing incident, see Arnold Levine v. Jonathan Alpert, Case No. 00-CA-004187, Hillsborough Circuit Civil Court. Read more below.

Sue Carlton of the St. Petersburg Times reported the matter June 10, 2000 in a story titled "Bucs accused of extortion".

"…the meeting exploded almost as soon as it began, leaving a trail of allegations, recriminations and criminal complaints."

"The latest: On Friday the lawyer for the fans announced in court
that he had asked police to investigate "threats and/or extortion" by the Bucs' lawyer at Saturday's meeting. He said the fans were
threatened with losing their seats if they did not agree to a
settlement that day."

"Tampa police detectives are reviewing the extortion complaint,
which names Levine, Bucs general manager Rich McKay and
Edward and Bryan Glazer."

"The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office is deciding whether Alpert should be charged with battery, a misdemeanor, in the coffee incident. Levine also filed a civil suit seeking damages."

Attorney's Suit Says He Received Coffee in Face
2000, 06-06-00, Attorney's suit says he [...]
Adobe Acrobat document [19.4 KB]
Bucs accused of extortion
2000, 06-10-00, Alpert accuses Bucs of e[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [19.7 KB]
Bucs fans win in ticket settlement
2000, 06-22-00, Bucs fans win in ticket [...]
Adobe Acrobat document [21.7 KB]
Arnold Levine

 

Arnold Levine previously sued Alpert, Barker & Rodems, PA, a $5 million dollar claim for defamation, Buccaneers Limited Partnership v. Alpert, Barker & Rodems, PA, US District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, case 99-2354-CIV-T-23C. See the PDF below for the copy of the libel complaint removed to federal court.

Libel complaint, Bucs v Alpert, Barker & Rodems, PA
Libel complaint, Bucs v Alpert, Barker [...]
Adobe Acrobat document [186.0 KB]
Judge Whittemore

 

United States District Judge James D. Whittemore repudiated the infamous coffee-throwing incident as speaker for the Florida Bar’s Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program. Judge Whittemore discussed the erosion of professionalism with the following comments found on page 23 of the transcript of Basic Federal Practice 2007, course #0444C:

6 If you think that's the only example of
7 wayward lawyer conduct during depositions just get
8 on the internet and search around. It's just
9 hilarious some of the things that go on. There
10 have been fist fights in Tampa. There has been
11 coffee thrown across the table by one lawyer
12 against another in a Federal deposition room in the
13 Federal courthouse. There have been lawyers
14 clipping their nails during depositions. That kind
15 of conduct is reprehensible.

CLE Basic Fed Practice 2007, J Whittemore, p23
Transcript, CLE Basic Fed Practice 2007,[...]
Adobe Acrobat document [10.3 KB]
Ryan Rodems

An example of Mr. Rodems boorish and unprofessional behavior occurred when he served as plaintiff’s counsel in WrestleReunion, LLC v. Live Nation, Television Holdings, Inc., United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, Case No. 8:07-cv-2093-T-27, trial August 31-September 10, 2009. Mr. Rodems lost the jury trial then wrote a diatribe attacking the credibility of witness Eric Bischoff. Rodems’ tirade is online here and on the Justice Network here

High-profile lawyer, judge spar on ethics

At the lawyer's insistence, the Florida Bar has put him on trial

St. Petersburg Times
By COLLEEN JENKINS
December 5, 2007


CLEARWATER - Arnold Levine became a big name among Tampa attorneys as much for his imperious New York manner as for his high-profile cases. He handles multimillion-dollar divorces. He represented the Tampa Bay Bucs. He persuaded a jury to go easy on a woman accused of hiring a hit man to kill her husband, known as the Lobster Boy.
Read more here

Cranky Attorney, a Former Judge, Clashes with Security

Robert Bonanno

Cranky Attorney, a Former Judge, Reportedly Clashes with Courthouse Security
ABA Journal Law News Now
by Martha Neil
July 6, 2011

Back in the day, Robert Bonanno was a judge in Hillsborough County, Fla., and didn't have to go through courthouse security to enter his chambers. But now, as a private attorney, he has to have his personal belongings screened along with everyone else, and this apparently did not put him in a good mood last week, the St. Petersburg Times reports.

A security officer complained in a written report that the 66-year-old lawyer called her names and then declined to wait for the arrival of sheriff's deputies.

However, having a bad day at the courthouse is no crime, Col. Jim Previtera of the sheriff's office tells the newspaper. "Unfortunately, there's a very small number of attorneys who enter the courthouse who routinely engage in this kind of conduct toward the screeners and the deputies," said Previtera, adding that he hoped Bonanno was simply having a bad day and would not repeat the behavior that sparked Friday's incident. Bonanno didn't respond to the Times' request for comment. Read more here

Security company clash with former Hillsborough judge

Robert Bonanno

Security company reports clash with former Hillsborough judge
St. Petersburg Times
by Alexandra Zayas
July 6, 2011

He reportedly used a racial insult in the flap.

TAMPA — Robert Bonanno was once a powerful judge in Hillsborough County. He didn't have to deal with security to enter his chambers in the old courthouse on Pierce Street. Things changed after Bonanno resigned amid a 2001 ethics investigation.

On Friday, Bonanno was just another lawyer headed into the State Attorney's Office, meaning he had to go through metal detectors. But, according to a report, he thought he was above the rules and lashed out with a racial insult.

Bonanno didn't want to put his wallet through an X-ray machine, private security company G4S reported to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

"The subject, a private attorney, began yelling that he does not need to go through that process due to who he is," reported security officer Marie Leggon.

Another officer told him those were the rules.

"He started calling me names, like 'stupid dumb black lady' and 'low life,' " security officer Lurene Easterly reported. "I asked him not to call me names. He kept calling me names. I told him, 'I will call a deputy.' He said, 'Call them.' He didn't care."

Bonanno eventually put his wallet in the X-ray machine and passed through security. Two minutes later, he returned, ready to leave.

This time, deputies were on their way.

"I asked him to please wait for law enforcement to come over," Leggon said. "The subject continued yelling that no one can make him stay as he exited the door." When deputies arrived, Bonanno was gone.

Witnesses at the State Attorney's Office recognized the former judge. Deputies pulled up a photo from his law firm website. The officers confirmed it was him.

Bonanno faces no charges, said sheriff's Col. Jim Previtera. He wasn't required to stay and wait for a deputy. The former judge isn't the only attorney who has ever been rude to a security officer.
"Unfortunately, there's a very small number of attorneys who enter the courthouse who routinely engage in this kind of conduct toward the screeners and the deputies," Previtera said. None, however, has prompted the private security company to file a report for this kind of behavior, Previtera said.

Bonanno's downfall began in 2000, when a bailiff found him after hours in another judge's darkened office. That judge, Gregory Holder, was out of town. A grand jury found that Bonanno told "incredible and conflicting" stories about why he was in Holder's office.

A state House committee had begun impeachment proceedings when Bonanno stepped down. He otherwise would have faced questions about a courthouse affair, the sealing of cases and the purchase of a $450,000 model home.

Bonanno, 66, runs a for-profit course aimed at helping people stay out of trouble while on probation. He didn't return two phone messages or an e-mail about Friday's incident.
"I would certainly hope that he was having a bad day," Col. Previtera said, "and that his behavior won't be repeated." Read more here

Times staff writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Office of Florida Default Law Group

2,000 initial foreclosure documents a month in Hillsborough Circuit Court

Law firm gorges on home defaults
Tampa Bay Online
Published: January 3, 2010
By MICHAEL SASSO


TAMPA - If there's one industry that's not feeling the economy's sting these days, it's the business of filing foreclosure lawsuits. Recently, mortgage servicing companies have been filing about 2,000 initial foreclosure documents every month in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. To handle the overwhelming caseload, an army of lawyers, paralegals and clerks at big foreclosure law firms have streamlined the art of separating homeowners from their homes. Read more here.