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    Questioning angers accuser at judge's trial

    Her credibility and reputation are challenged as he is defended in a case involving sexual advances.

    photo
    [Times photos: Douglas R. Clifford]
    Lisa V. Jeanes, 32, a Maryland veterinarian, reacts to a question from the defense attorney during the Judicial Qualifications Commission trial in Clearwater on Monday.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 25, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- She was called a liar, a sexual predator, a possible psychotic. For an hour, she was asked intimate, embarrassing and heated questions.

    Finally, Lisa V. Jeanes snapped at the lawyer for Pinellas-Pasco Judge Charles Cope, "I feel like I'm the one on trial."

    photo
    Judge Charles Cope could be removed from the bench if the JQC hearing panel decides he violated judicial canons. He faces a separate criminal trial in California.
    The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission trial against Cope opened Monday with a blistering attack against the credibility of a woman who accuses Cope of trying to enter her hotel room last year in Carmel, Calif.

    For the first time, Jeanes took the stand to formally accuse Cope of repeatedly making unwanted sexual advances toward her on April 4, 2001. The next night, Jeanes said, the judge used a stolen room key to try and enter her room.

    Cope could be removed from the bench if a JQC hearing panel decides after hearing testimony this week that he violated judicial canons.

    Jeanes cried when she told JQC special counsel John Mills that Cope was the person who tried to enter her hotel room. But tears were soon replaced with anger as Cope's lawyer, Robert Merkle, pressed her credibility during cross-examination.

    After Merkle asked her whether she once accused Cope of being "psycho," Jeanes told him, "Something's wrong with that man. ... I think that he's not only psycho. I think he's a predator. I think he's a monster. ... He is no man."

    Behind Cope in the courtroom, the judge's wife, Linda, sat impassively.

    The presiding judge in the JQC hearing, appeals court Judge James Jorgenson, gave Merkle and Mills wide latitude in questioning witnesses, resulting in lines of questioning that left Jeanes irate.

    Merkle, for example, delved into the history of two abortions that Jeanes underwent. Cope asserts that Jeanes volunteered that information to him.

    When Merkle asked why she didn't tell police about both abortions, an exasperated Jeanes said, "It has nothing to do with the fact that that man tried to break into our room."

    Merkle began another line of questioning with, "This is the central lie you've told in this case."

    Jeanes lashed back.

    "If you want to know who's lying, talk to him," she said, pointing to Cope. "This is ridiculous."

    Jeanes, 32, a Maryland veterinarian, testified that she and her mother, Dr. Nina Jeanes, visited Carmel on a mini-vacation.

    Jeanes said she took the occasion to inform her mother about a previous abortion 11 years before. She said she also told her mother she was having a relationship with a married man.

    Jeanes acknowledged that both she and her mother were intoxicated at the time.

    During that conversation on the balcony of their Carmel hotel room in the early morning, Jeanes said, Cope appeared and began eavesdropping.

    She said that Cope kept repeating to her, "You will be forgiven for your sins. But I can't bring your babies back."

    It wasn't long, she said, before the phone in the hotel room started ringing and she noticed the hotel room key was missing.

    She said that Cope offered to take her to a "safe place" where she could call for help. Cope, she testified, started walking her and her mother to his own nearby hotel room.

    On the way, a Carmel police officer saw the three walking down the middle of a street. Cope was returned to his hotel and the women to theirs, finally getting in with the aid of a hotel employee.

    Cope quickly returned to her room, Jeanes said, and asked her to take a walk on the beach with him.

    "I thought he was a really good person with good intentions trying to console me," Jeanes testified.

    But on the beach, she said, Cope cupped her face and tried several times to kiss her. She turned away. As they walked closer to the room, she said, Cope tried again and she pushed him, then ran away.

    "I was petrified and you're asking me why?" the woman told Merkle. "I didn't know what he was capable of."

    The next night, Jeanes said, she was awakened at about 1 a.m. by the sound of a key in the lock to her room. Then came the sounds of the door banging against a door chain.

    As her mother called police, Jeanes said, she looked through the peephole and saw Cope.

    Merkle questioned how she could be so sure by looking through a clouded peephole at a person who didn't face her directly.

    "I know it's him," Jeanes testified. "I'm sorry, Mr. Merkle, I know it's him."

    She denied, as Cope contends, that she engaged in a consensual kiss on the beach and then followed the judge to his hotel room for foreplay that ended short of sex.

    Merkle said Jeanes' mother reported the key missing before she and her daughter ever met Cope. He says Jeanes fabricated the story against Cope to cover up a brief, physical encounter with the judge.

    He said Cope, who acknowledges getting intoxicated in Carmel, made errors in judgment, though he did not try to enter the women's room.

    But he said of Jeanes, "She was the sexual predator here, not Judge Cope."

    Cope faces a separate, criminal trial in California next month on five misdemeanors, including prowling.

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