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Police records shed light on candidate's past

Commission hopeful George Garbutt has been charged with DUI and battery, but says it's all in the past.

By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

TREASURE ISLAND -- One City Commission candidate is already familiar with the workings of one city department: the police force.

George Washington Garbutt, 75, who has billed himself as a former city leader who helped draft the land development regulations the current City Commission tried to change last year, has been arrested five times since 1985, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records.

Garbutt, who is running for District 3 city commissioner, has been arrested three times by Treasure Island police and twice by St. Petersburg police on charges ranging from driving under the influence to aggravated battery.

In addition, in 1997 a jury awarded Garbutt's former girlfriend more than $1-million in a civil suit over charges that he abused her. The award was lauded at the time by advocates for battered women, who said it was one of the largest ever levied in Florida against someone accused of domestic violence.

An appeals court ordered a new trial, however, ruling the lawyer for Rosemary Lafarnara used improper arguments in his closing statements. The case is still on appeal, and court records were en route to Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer's office last week and were unavailable for review.

Garbutt dismissed the lawsuit, saying it is all in the past, despite the fact that court papers were filed in the case as recently as January.

"It was completely a trial of personalities," Garbutt said. "There was never anything done to her."

Garbutt also has filed for bankruptcy twice, according to federal court records. He filed personal bankruptcy under Chapter 13 in 1995, then filed under Chapter 11 in 1997. The Pinellas County tax collector was cited as a creditor in both filings.

Garbutt said his problems were prompted by the death of his wife and, later, a fiancee. He added that he stopped drinking in 1998, the last year he was arrested.

"I've been with Alcoholics Anonymous for five years," Garbutt said. "AA has been a real help."

Garbutt was first accused of domestic violence in 1987, when he was running for mayor against then-Mayor Walter Stubbs. A former girlfriend showed up at a political forum with two armed bodyguards, and filed a lawsuit against him weeks later.

The woman, Penny Morgan, succeeded in getting a restraining order against Garbutt, according to court records. She later testified in Lafarnara's case against Garbutt.

Two years after Garbutt lost the mayoral race to Stubbs, ending his political career in Treasure Island after 14 years in office, former live-in girlfriend Rosemary Lafarnara sued him for assault, battery, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

That case is still working its way through the court system, 14 years after it was filed.

Two related cases, however, have been resolved. According to court records, Garbutt filed claims with two insurance companies -- Allstate and State Farm -- hoping the companies would cover Lafarnara's claims against him under his insurance policies.

In both cases, a judge ruled the insurance companies did not have to pay for any money Garbutt was ordered to pay his former girlfriends.

-- Times researchers Caryn Baird and Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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