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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Mar. 26, 2004 14 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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This week's items: Five lawyers vie for Charles Cope's judgeship A look at proposeed judicial reforms, including time behind bars for misbehavin' judges.King Engineering Associates celebrates its new Sarasota location with a 6-foot chocolate

Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Five up for Cope's old spot

Two Pinellas County judges are among the five lawyers being considered for the judgeship previously held by Charles Cope, who resigned in January after learning Florida legislators planned to impeach him.

Judges Amy Williams and Walt Fullerton, longtime attorney Jack Helinger and two Pinellas-Pasco assistant state prosecutors, Joseph A. Bulone and Thane Covert, were selected from 29 candidates interviewed by the 6th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission.

Gov. Jeb Bush will decide which one gets the job. Odds are the one selected will be a teetotaler. Cope's problems with alcohol have made too many headlines. First he was arrested in Naples for drinking and driving, a charge he later beat. And then he was arrested in Carmel, Calif., on charges he tried to break into a hotel room of two women. In a 2002 plea deal, he pleaded guilty to public intoxication. He was attending judicial conferences at the time of both arrests.

Jail for judges?

Coffee Talk recently heard about four pending initiatives that propose judicial reforms, including time behind bars for misbehavin' judges. There's probably not too much for the judiciary to worry about since these initiatives have yet to report a valid signature and they've been pending for as long as two years.

One proposed amendment -Judicial Accountability Initiative Law - proposes the establishment of 25 regional grand juries to investigate judicial abuse. The Arcadia-based group that filed the petition is known as JAIL 4 Judges. It was filed in 2002.

Then there's the Deerfield Beach-based Peoples' Constitutional Amendment Committee, which has filed three initiatives: Truth and Justice in the Courts, a proposal to require "Justice for All" in Florida courts; Judicial Elections and Duties, which seeks prohibitions on certain campaign contributions; and Disposition of Certain Judicial Actions, which says only juries would make deliberations on "outrageous, reckless or grossly negligent" conduct.

Despite legislative movement for reform, there really doesn't seem much chance for such initiatives to make it to the ballot box. Of all the initiatives proposed since 1976, only 21 made it to the general election. Of those, only 16 passed. By the way, that compares with the 46 legislative ballot initiatives that have passed since 1978.

How sweet it is

King Engineering Associates is too sweet: The firm recently celebrated its new Sarasota location with a 6-foot Belgian chocolate sculpture of the local coastline made by Chef Michael of Let Them Eat Cake in Tampa.

The candy coastline was dotted with buildings, palm trees and cars, made of chocolate. Interstate 75 never looked so good. It was a sheet cake with raspberry filling.

Governor's team fights to keep bases

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush isn't one to leave much to chance. And Tampa officials are happy to hear it. The governor hired recently retired four-star Adm. Robert J. Natter and the law firm of Piper Rudnick to represent the state's interests in the upcoming military base realignment.

Members of the the R.J. Natter/Pipe Rudnick team include Ratter; Dick Armey, former U.S. Congressman; Harry McPherson, former commissioner of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC); four-star Air Force Gen. Joe Ralston; and William Cohen, former secretary of defense.

The governor's office estimates that Florida's 21 military bases and three unified command centers have a $44 billion annual economic impact in the state, making it the third largest industry behind tourism and agriculture. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield is calling for a 25% cut in military installations and facilities.

Lawyer loses license for not paying child support

The Florida Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that a new attorney who continually failed to pay child support isn't fit to practice law.

The lawyer, identified only as R.M.C., was provisionally admitted to the Florida Bar in September 2001 after he agreed to pay back child support. But the lawyer never made a payment on the arrearage, nor did he keep up with his new payments. He owes nearly $17,000 in support.

RMC was admitted to the bar through the "credit string" process, which was established primarily for bar applicants with drug, alcohol or psychological problems, according to the March 11 opinion. The high court admonished the Florida Bar Board of Examiners, chaired by St. Petersburg lawyer Michael J. Keane, for admitting the lawyer through that process.

"We do not think conditional admission is appropriate for applicants with serious financial problems. Debt is not an illness or a disease. ¦ If an applicant presents a threat to the public because of financial difficulties, he or she should not be admitted to the bar."

In a unanimous decision, the justices agreed to revoke RMC's license. "We refuse to reward RMC's continued disregard for his children, the custodial parent, the court system, court judgments, and his sworn promise to the board and this court," they wrote.

Coffee Talk wonders how many doctors, journalists, airline pilots and Realtors would be out of work if they weren't allowed to practice their profession for failure to pay child support?

Thy hallowed Oyster Roast

It seems that talk of the Clearwater Bar Association's phenomenally successful Oyster Roast has reached as far as South Florida and Gainesville. Florida Bar President Miles McGrane, a Miami attorney, even showed up for the March 20 event, the association's 58th roast in as many years.

And former Clearwater bar president Michael Faehner, once considered the most eligible bachelor in that waterfront town, returned for the weekend from Gainesville where he's pursuing a LL.M. There were plenty of roasted oysters to go around, although not everyone was happy to hear they were harvested from Texas, not Appalachicola Bay.

Correction

Orlando attorney Roland A. Sutcliffe Jr. represented Tampa-based Foreline Security Corp. in defense of a $27 million Lake County verdict. He was incorrectly identified in the March 19-25 issue. Also, Tampa-based Engage Technologies Inc. acquired the assets of Foreline Security. It is not a holding of Engage Technologies.

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