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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 13, 2004 17 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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This week's items: A win for GonzalezNew fee opportunities for attorneys who represent Hillsborough County traffic violators apparently increased significantly during the first six months this yearHart takes offense

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

A win for Gonzalez

A Tampa attorney may continue to represent Anthony F. Gonzalez in a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County circuit court against Colonial Bank and two of its top local executives.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal has ruled that Circuit Judge Gregory P. Holder erred when he threw Tampa attorney Stanford R. Solomon off the Gonzalez case.

Gonzalez is suing Colonial and Joseph V. Chillura and Alfred T. Rogers - the bank's Tampa Bay area chief executive and president, respectively - over his 2003 dismissal as chairman of Colonial's regional advisory board. (See "Bank Shots," GCBR, July 23-29.)

Gonzalez, who used to practice criminal defense law in Tampa, claims Chillura fired him because he reported to Colonial's Alabama headquarters that Chillura and Rogers were operating a competing finance company.

The circuit case was filed by Gonzalez as a derivative action on behalf of Colonial and his fellow stockholders whose interests might have been harmed by MCapital II LLC, the finance company set up by Chillura and Rogers.

Holder had disqualified Solomon from representing Gonzalez under Florida Bar rules because Solomon also represented the plaintiff in two federal actions arising from the same circumstances. Holder reasoned that Solomon couldn't represent Gonzalez in his state suit on behalf of Colonial while at the same time representing Gonzalez against the bank in federal court.

But DCA judges Patricia J. Kelly, Stevan T. Northcutt and Thomas E. Stringer Jr. disagreed.

They say both Solomon and Chillura submitted affidavits attesting to the fact that Solomon's firm, The Solomon Tropp Law Group PA, has never provided Colonial with legal services. The appeals court concluded there was no attorney-client relationship between Solomon's firm and Colonial, thus no reason to disqualify Solomon.

Had they sided with Colonial, the judges wrote in part, "we would in effect be letting the fox guard the chicken coop; i.e., the corporation would have the ability to control by whom a derivative plaintiff is represented."

Colonial says Gonzalez forced his own dismissal when he demanded that Chillura either fire him or Rogers. Colonial has claimed in court records that Gonzalez and Rogers had a falling out. The bank says Rogers refused to leave Colonial to help expand the Bank of St. Petersburg, where Gonzalez has become chairman.

The Bank of St. Petersburg has since moved aggressively into Tampa.

Slow down

New fee opportunities for attorneys who represent Hillsborough County traffic violators apparently increased significantly during the first six months this year. Hillsborough Clerk of the Court Richard Ake tells Coffee Talk his staff processed a 38% increase in traffic citations this year. Much of the increased volume came from the Tampa Police Department.

"It's an emphasis on enforcement," Ake says. "It's not only in the city but also in the county. There's a lot of concern with slowing people down."

But this increased enforcement also translated into additional work for Ake's staff. His clerks are processing about 1,000 walk-in customers a day at the agency's primary traffic fine processing office in the Floriland Mall.

"We're getting out about 8 (o'clock) at night instead of 6," he says. "There are more people at the counters."

With that in mind, Ake has a piece of advice for anyone driving in Hillsborough. "Slow down," he says.

Hart takes offense

If he was running for judge, Chris Hart III could take his beef to a group of local lawyers who are policing the campaigning for the Hillsborough County bench.

If he was running in Pinellas County, Hart could complain to the Citizens for Fair Campaign Practices, an organization of volunteers who try to referee electioneering in that county.

But Hart is running for Hillsborough County circuit court clerk. So, after one of his opponents questioned his business credentials in The Tampa Tribune, Hart felt his only avenue of appeal was to his political party.

Hart invoked the late Ronald Reagan's so-called 11th Commandment of Republican politics last month when he wrote to Allen H. "Al" Higginbotham Jr., the party's county chairman.

"The false, misleading and negative campaigning of Bob Zegota that surfaced in the clerk's race and was reported in the Tribune last week has appalled me," Hart wrote to Higginbotham.

Zegota had written a letter to Hart sometime in July that claimed Hart had set up a consulting firm in 2003 that was "essentially a shell corporation, without any substantive business activity whatsoever."

The date of Zegota's letter is in some dispute. One version that was copied to three local newspapers was dated July 1. But Hart says the version he received from Zegota was dated July 13. That was three days before a Tiger Bay Club of Tampa forum at which a Zegota supporter, local businessman Ralph Hughes, asked the candidates if they'd be taking a pay cut to serve in the office.

Hart says his consulting business, though fledgling, was viable and earned him $21,305 last year.

Saying he was following Reagan's admonition to never speak ill of a fellow Republican, Hart told Higginbotham in his letter that he wanted to take the high road to the Aug. 31 primary.

"This positive approach is part of what makes us different from our opponents in the other political parties," wrote Hart, who apparently is blocking out any news coverage of the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

Higginbotham couldn't be contacted before Coffee Talk's deadline to find out if he told Zegota to knock it off.

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