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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 31, 2003 15 years ago

Hearsay (Tampa Edition)

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This week's items: Pinellas judge charged by Qualifications Commission Win some; lose some

Hearsay (Tampa Edition)

Pinellas judge charged by

Qualifications Commission

The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission charged 6th Circuit Judge John Renke III with improperly representing himself in campaign literature during the 2002 judicial election, in which he vied with Declan Mansfield for the seat of retiring Judge Joseph Donahey.

In one campaign, Renke described himself as "John Renke, a Judge With Our Values," when he was not a sitting or incumbent judge at the time, according to the JQC's formal charges filed Oct. 23. In the same brochure, he misrepresented that he held office in the Southwest Florida Water Management District by showing a picture of himself with a nameplate that says, "John K. Renke III, Chair," beneath a SFWMD banner when he was not, in fact, chairman of the SFWMD, according to the JQC. Also, in the same brochure, Renke implied endorsement by Clearwater firefighters when he did not have their endorsement, according to the JQC.

Furthermore, Renke claimed "real judicial experience as a hearing officer in hearing appeals from administrative law judges" when his actual participation was limited to sitting as a board member of an administrative agency in isolated instances, according to the JQC.

Renke is also charged with purposefully misrepresenting endorsements by people such as Paul Bedinghaus, Gail Hebert, John Milford, George Jirotka and Nancy Riley, in a campaign flyer - presenting them as Pinellas County public officials when they are in fact officials of the Pinellas County Republican party, according to the JQC.

Also, Renke said his opponent (Mansfield) lacked the kind of broad experience that best prepares someone to serve as a circuit court judge, and implied that he, Renke, would better serve them with his many years of broad civil trial experience.

"This was knowingly false because in fact your opponent had far more experience as a lawyer and in the courtroom and in fact you had little or no actual trial or courtroom experience," the JQC writes in its formal complaint.

Finally, Renke is charged with publicly associating himself with the Republican Party of Pasco County during the election. Renke was in trial at press time, and unable to return a call for comment.

Win some;

lose some

Tampa labor law attorney Michael Malfitano took it on the chin along with co-counsel Reid Myers, a San Antonio, Texas, lawyer, during a recent appeal to the National Labor Relations Board.

Malfitano, who practices in the Tampa office of Constangy Brooks & Smith LLC, represented the United Services Automobile Association in a dispute over 1,300 fliers an employee distributed at its Tampa offices.

Loretta Williams, one of the company's insurance adjusters, anonymously distributed the fliers that urged co-workers to wear red ribbons in support of other employees terminated as part of an internal reorganization plan.

While he ultimately allowed workers to wear the ribbons, company General Manager Thomas V. Draude officially advised subordinates the distribution of fliers violated the company's non-solicitation policies. Williams eventually acknowledged her role in the matter, but Draude subsequently fired her on a claim she first lied to him about her role in the matter.

In the original complaint, the NLRB's general counsel argued the company maintained an unlawful written no-solicitation/no-distribution policy, expressed that unlawful policy via e-mail and voice mail, unlawfully interrogated Williams and another employee and unlawfully terminated Williams. The NLRB three-member panel agreed with the general counsel.

Neither Administrative Law Judge Margaret Brakebusch nor the three-member panel accepted the argument Malfitano voiced on behalf of his client - that the company fired Williams for lying about distributing the fliers not for distributing them.

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