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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Apr. 30, 2004 16 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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This week's items: Chief judge of the judicial circuit for Pasco and Pinellas counties, and the court clerk in Pinellas battle over guardianshipsFlorida Legislature increases 6th and 13 circuit judicial staffs Congressman Jim Davis honors

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

There's always an exception

It's no secret that David A. Demers, chief judge of the judicial circuit for Pasco and Pinellas counties, and the court clerk in Pinellas, Karleen F. DeBlaker, aren't getting along.

What is a secret - or at least should be, in the opinion of Demers - is a series of written communications that the two have exchanged over guardianships.

DeBlaker wants wide latitude to audit the periodic financial reports that professional guardians are required to file in court. Judges appoint guardians to look after the young, the old, and the in-between who cannot manage their own finances.

In Pinellas, as in most Florida counties, guardians are required to file their reports under seal. Without court approval, not even auditors for DeBlaker can see the reports to make sure guardians aren't stealing from their wards.

"Historically, the clerk has been of great service to the probate court and the public by effectively carrying out its statutory function and executing the court's request," Demers spokesman Ron Stuart recently stated.

Ah, there's the nub of it, isn't it?

DeBlaker is free to continue reviewing guardianship cases, but only those that judges want her auditors poking around in. If DeBlaker herself wants a guardian accounting unsealed, the likely reply from the bench will be: Don't call us, Karleen, we'll call you.

Demers has been drafting an administrative order to establish when DeBlaker's auditors may butt into guardianships overseen by the local judiciary. The clerk and the judge have been fruitlessly searching for consensus on guardianship audits.

Demers is a bit shy with the press. But Stuart told GCBR that the chief judge doesn't think he legally has to share with news reporters his DeBlaker correspondence.

There is one exception that we know of. Coffee Talk will call it the she-ain't-fighting-fair exception. Stuart accused DeBlaker of selectively furnishing portions of her written exchange with Demers to a television reporter.

DeBlaker released two of three letters that went back and forth between the court officials, says Stuart. But a rejoinder from Demers was omitted from the records that DeBlaker's office gave to the reporter, according to Stuart.

So what did Demers do? Merely as an act of public relations self-defense, mind you, the judge consented to release the rejoinder to the TV journalist.

If anybody else wants the full record of the tete-a-tete, Stuart advises the curious to go see DeBlaker. Demers is standing tall on withholding the first two letters, Stuart says. But if that DeBlaker does it again and only hands out the first two letters, then Stuart says come see him. He'll give up the third one for you.

Compromise

Chief Judges David Demers of the 6th Circuit and Manuel Menendez Jr. of the 13th Circuit probably will have to settle for a compromise. The Florida Legislature is about to increase their judicial staff during the final week of the legislative session, barring any last minute political jostling. Final results were not available by Coffee Talk's deadline.

Although it needs confirmation by the House and Senate, the final version of HB 1849 would increase the number of Hillsborough circuit judges by three and Pinellas-Pasco circuit judges by two. The proposal would add two new Hillsborough County judges and one new county judge in the Pinellas-Pasco circuit.

That's less than what the Senate proposed in SB 1688, however. For example, that bill recommended an increase of three new circuit judges in the 6th Circuit and four new circuit judges in the 13th Circuit.

The House bill falls short of the number the Florida Supreme Court certified last December. It urged the Legislature to add four new judges in the 13th circuit and four new county judges in Hillsborough. In the 6th Circuit, the court wanted three new circuit judges and two new county judges in Pinellas and one new county judge in Pasco.

Final tribute

It's not uncommon for Congressman Jim Davis, D-Tampa, to deliver a public tribute in honor of those whose work exemplifies the best the Tampa Bay area community has to offer. Recently he paid final respects on the House floor to a fellow lawyer - 13th Circuit Judge Robert Simms, 56, who died April 9 of a heart attack.

Published in the April 22 Congressional Record, the tribune came as the circuit's Judicial Nominating Commission set May 10 as the deadline for applications to succeed Simms, who was a 1970 graduate of Stetson University College of Law.

During his career, Simms worked as a state prosecutor in the Pinellas-Pasco and Hillsborough circuits. He worked as a criminal defense attorney prior to his election in 1991. "Judge Simms' colleagues will remember him best for his patient, unassuming and kind demeanor on and off the bench," Davis told the nation. "He was a judge's judge and a powerful example to all who knew him."

Target: Everyone

Atlanta-based SunTrust Bank is pushing its purchasing-card system for business users. In an April 28 meeting in Sarasota, SunTrust officials along with their corporate partners, San Francisco-based VISA U.S.A. Inc. and Austin, Texas-based Works Inc., met with local business and government leaders, including officials from Dooley and Mack Constructors Inc. and the town of Longboat Key, to promote their purchase cards.

SunTrust has offered a purchase card system for about 10 years, but two years ago the company partnered with Works to offer clients more real-time card-use analysis and interactivity over the Internet. The system is being billed as the modern replacement for accounts payable, with greater automation and security.

Asked who the company was targeting with the service, John Ludewig, vice president and program sales officer of Commercial Card Services responded: "Do you know any businesses that doesn't pay a bill? We are after everyone." For the moment, the company is starting with large- to mid-size companies and municipalities.

One of the sales pitches designed to appeal to tax-exempt entities is that the card system's software can flag sales tax. In one case, the purchasing-card system allowed the city of Fort Lauderdale, to save sales tax on a construction improvement project by buying construction materials itself rather than buying the materials through its contractors.

The program and marketing appears to be working, last year SunTrust had the fastest growing purchasing card commercial program in the VISA chain. SunTrust's purchasing card business grew by 38% compared to the industry average growth of 18%.

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