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Routine case reveals disputes between law partners

A canceled divorce hearing yields accusations of mental breakdowns and sex contracts with clients.

Published March 2, 2004

DADE CITY - It was supposed to have been a routine divorce hearing.

Instead, Circuit Judge Linda Babb last week found her courtroom in the midst of a bizarre dispute between law partners that involved claims of mental incompetency and a Pinellas County sex scandal.

Babb was scheduled to hear a two-day trial Feb. 23. One attorney was ready to proceed, only to find his law partner had called off the trial claiming he was mentally incompetent.

With two days wasted on a court calendar booked through August, Babb hauled both attorneys into her office for an emergency contempt hearing Thursday.

Attorney James L. Slater of Palm Harbor was scheduled to begin the Feb. 23 divorce trial. He had been sick for two weeks with the flu but said he was ready to proceed.

Except on the Friday before, at 4:58 p.m., his law partner, Bruce R. Young, faxed a motion to delay the trial to Babb's office, claiming Slater was out of his mind. Then, Young called witnesses and told them the trial was off.

"The undersigned believes that Mr. Slater has suffered a complete mental and psychological breakdown," Young wrote in a motion to Babb.

Babb didn't get the motion until moments before the trial was set to begin. And she never ruled on it or scheduled a hearing on it.

"Mr. Slater is in need of professional help and medication," Young wrote.

That was news to Slater.

"These absurd allegations are complete fabrications," said Slater, appearing normal at Thursday's hearing.

Young insisted he spoke with Slater's family before contacting the judge. He said family members told him Slater refused to get out of bed and they wanted to have him committed for mental health care.

Slater said no one in his family told Young any such thing.

"He's making things up," Slater said.

"I don't know what's going on with your practice, what's going on with you," Babb told the attorneys.

Both said they had contacted the Florida Bar to investigate.

But last week's incident aside, Young was already the subject of sexual misconduct allegations, Pinellas County court records show.

A former female employee at his law firm sued him last summer claiming she went to Young for legal work in 2002, and he offered to help in exchange for sexual favors.

In support of her lawsuit, charging battery and infliction of emotional distress, the woman's attorney in January introduced affidavits from two women claiming they were once clients of Young's.

Both women swore Young offered legal service in exchange for sex.

One said Young told her she would have to sign a "sexual retainer contract," to guarantee sex because Slater would want to know why he was doing legal work without bringing money into the practice.

"Bruce R. Young Esquire took advantage of me as a client and essentially forced me to have sexual relations with him to gain legal representation," the woman wrote in her affidavit.

The Times is withholding the names of the plaintiff and the two women because of the nature of the allegations.

Young denied the allegations. In a deposition, he said the sexual retainer contract is a common joke among lawyers. He said he ignored the lawsuit when it was filed because "it was perceived as a nuisance."

The Florida Bar regulates attorneys in the state, but will comment only on investigations that are completed. Both Slater and Young were listed this week as attorneys in good standing.

In the Dade City divorce case, Babb rescheduled it for August.

She stopped short of finding Young in contempt of court for his interference, but she ordered him to pay any costs incurred by witnesses who had been scheduled to travel to the courthouse for the canceled trial.

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