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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. July 23, 2004
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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Paying the price

All five candidates who qualified to run for Hillsborough County clerk of the circuit had a different shtick at a July 16 forum on Harbour Island.

On the Republican side, Steve Hall wanted the entire field to quit their jobs by 5 p.m. that afternoon. Coffee Talk hasn't heard of any of his opponents taking Hall up on that challenge.

Chris Hart promised to restore conservative values to the clerk's office. No same-sex marriage licenses from Hart. And Bob Zegota wants to run the place like a business.

Among the Democrats, Pat Frank emphasized her long resume. Helene Marks reminded the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa luncheon that she is the only one of the quintet who has actually worked in the clerk's office.

Leave it to GOP activist Ralph Hughes to wake up the crowd of political junkies at the Wyndham hotel and throw the gang up on stage off message.

Hughes asked if any of the hopefuls would be taking a pay cut, should voters look favorably upon their candidacy.

The Tampa businessman probably had absolutely no idea that his electoral preference, Zegota, was the lone contender who would be making such a financial sacrifice. Zegota would trade in a commercial real estate broker's income of $144,405 last year for the pay of the clerk, currently $137,351 a year.

Hart appeared to think the question was aimed at him. The former Hillsborough commissioner has been doing a little consulting - a very little, perhaps, judging from his reaction - since a 2002 election defeat. Hart took the microphone and accused Hughes of being "a puppet master," backing only office-seekers willing to do his bidding at the courthouse and county building.

A smiling but slightly agitated Hart then asserted his independence from Hughes.

Zegota got a little tangled in his strings that morning when he was quoted in The Tampa Tribune as claiming that Hart's consulting business was nothing but a "shell corporation." For Zegota's information and everybody else's, Hart told the Tiger Bay forum that he made almost $75,000 last year.

Prosecutor, TV critic

The state attorney for Hillsborough County, Mark Ober, has been quite busy lately.

Ober is trying to finish up his first term in office with a flourish. That's because he has an intra-party re-election challenge from Robin Fernandez Fuson. With no Democrat in the race, all county voters get a chance in the Aug. 31 primary to decide which Republican leads the prosecutor's office for the next four years.

But that hasn't consumed all of Ober's time.

At a recent appearance before a lawyers' group, Ober confessed to catching a little television from time to time. But he says he regrets it whenever the show is "Law and Order," a cops-and-prosecutors drama that only seems some days to be in perpetual reruns on every channel except C-SPAN and ESPN.

Ober opined that the series takes a bit too much screenwriter's license with standard criminal trial procedure. He happened to glance briefly at the show the other night.

An accused murderer took the stand in his own defense. To Ober's utter amazement, the guy's lawyer and the trial judge let the witness admit to a killing back in the 1980s - testimony apparently offered to the jury as a good-faith gesture. But the guy was adamant that somebody else sent the victim at this trial to her eternal reward.

"Every time I see that show," Ober told his fellow attorneys, "I ask myself: 'Why I am watching this?'"

Fortunately for NBC, not every red-blooded American TV viewer is a lawyer. "Law and Order" has lasted 15 years on the network.

Ober, a former defense attorney, probably didn't like "Perry Mason," either.

Making hay

The public finance team at GrayRobinson PA recently ranked 12th in the nation and first in Florida on Thomson Financial's list of the top municipal bond disclosure counsels for the first six months this year. And Tampa attorney Frank Fleischer, who chairs the team, gets a large share of the credit for that accomplishment.

Earlier this year, Fleischer and the public finance team closed on a $750 million bond issue for Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state's legislative-enacted windstorm insurer of last resort. As disclosure counsel, the GrayRobinson team reviewed the legality of the bonds for the public-private corporation.

The opportunities for such growth accounts for why GrayRobinson managing partner Byrd "Biff" Marshall Jr. personally recruited Fleischer to the firm more than a year ago. That is around the time Fleischer and his longtime law partner, William Schifino Sr., decided amicably to close down their law practice.

In just more than five years, Fleischer has helped close more than $7.2 million in public finance offerings.

Etc. ...

Hillsborough County Judge Mark Wolfe has earned a spot as a 13th Circuit judge. Gov. Jeb Bush recently appointed Wolfe to fill the vacancy created by the death of Circuit Judge Robert J. Simms. Wolfe had been acting as a temporary replacement for Simms under the direction of Chief Judge Manuel Menendez. Bush first appointed Wolfe, 48, in 2000 as a county judge. He won election unopposed two years ago.


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