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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 24, 2003 15 years ago

Hearsay (Tampa edition)

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This week's items: Tampa law firm of Macfarlane Ferguson & McMullen PA stock disputeDigestive failure Clearwater Judge Charles Cope one of Reader's Digest worst judges featureGordon Harris, leaving Orlando's GrayHarris

Hearsay (Tampa edition)

Stock dispute

It has been more than six years since Harry Vance Smith and several of his colleagues spun off of the venerable Tampa law firm of Macfarlane Ferguson & McMullen PA to form their own firm.

Now the president of Smith Clark Delesie Bierley Mueller & Kadyk claims his former employer reneged on a shareholder's agreement.

Earlier this month, Smith, 61, sued his former employer over the dispute in the 13th Judicial Circuit. He retained Michael Addison of Tampa-based Addison & Delano PA to collect $43,933.43, plus interest.

The lawsuit claims Smith, a products liability and personal injury litigator, dutifully surrendered the stock certificates to Macfarlane Ferguson, as required by the shareholder's agreement, and that the law firm has acknowledged receipt of the stock certificates.

- David R. Corder

Digestive failure

It's sort of like the gift that keeps on giving. Except it's the scandal that keeps on spreading.

Clearwater's own Judge Charles Cope had another unwanted 15 minutes of national fame, this time in November's Reader's Digest. He was one of three judges profiled in the magazine's annual worst judges feature under the headline: "Sleazy, corrupt or abusive."

As a winner of the so-called broken gavel award, Cope had the honor of having the story of his April 2001 trip to a judicial conference in Carmel, Calif., retold to the magazine's millions of readers.

During the trip, Cope met a 31-year-old veterinarian and her 64-year-old mother. They claimed they awoke one night to find Cope, whom they had met the day before, trying to enter their room. Police arrested Cope, who insisted the entire thing was a misunderstanding. The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission charged him with six counts of violating judicial canons. As for the California charges, he pled no contest to one count of public intoxication and paid $6,000 in fines.

Cope, who returned to the Pinellas/Pasco circuit bench in August 2002 after a leave of absence, declined comment for the article.

- Hali White

Harris leaves GrayHarris

Gordon "Stumpy" Harris, the Harris in GrayHarris, has left the Orlando firm he helped build to open a practice with his son, Bruce Harris, and Kurtis Bauerle.

The firm Harris co-founded in 1970 will now be known as GrayRobinson.

Richard Zaback, managing partner of the Tampa office, says the Orlando office is handling the logistics of the change, including changes to signs, stationery, business cards and the firm's Web site.

In a prepared statement, the firm called Harris' leaving the "end of an era." Harris co-founded the firm 33 years ago with J. Charles Gray and Richard M. Robinson, who are both still with the firm.

Gray calls the split amicable, but says he has only known Harris was leaving for a few weeks. The full-service firm has offices in Tampa, Orlando, Clermont, Lakeland, Melbourne and Tallahassee.

- Hali White

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