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Tampa uncuffed

Courts heed call for some fundamental connections

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER and CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
Published May 27, 2004

The new George Edgecomb building may be the glittering centerpiece of an $85-million courthouse renovation project in downtown Tampa, but grumblings are mounting about its lack of one of the low-tech mainstays of the old, grimy courthouse: pay phones.

"It's a matter of principle," said lawyer Ralph Fisher. "It's a public building without a pay phone, and the underclass is unable to communicate. I think it's unfair."

Fisher, a civil litigator, said he doesn't carry a cell phone, which he calls "frivolous and a waste of money for the average person."

So, at the Edgecomb building, which opened in January, he borrows cell phones from clients to call his secretary. Other times, he must visit the pay phones down the block at the Twiggs Street parking garage or at the Verizon building several blocks away. There remains a bank of phones at the old courthouse, accessible by a walking bridge.

Don Harwig, director of facilities for the county's buildings, said phones are scheduled to be installed at the Edgecomb building this week. There will be a bank of phones near the jury room on the second floor, and more on the ground floor.

"Any time you open a new building, everyone thinks someone else is handling it," Harwig said, adding it appeared the installation of the pay phones "fell through the cracks."

There's still another gripe: Courts in the Edgecomb building are not equipped to handle conference calls, which are frequently necessary when witnesses cannot appear in person to testify.

"This is just outrageous, because this courthouse (cost) tens of millions and is brand new, and you can't even have telephonic testimony," Fisher said.

Court administrator Mike Bridenback said the conference call technology should be up and running by early July. "There is a lot of impatience out there," he said. "It has been a real frustration."

* * *

LOOKING FOR A HOME: Caesius and Angie have been fixtures at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office station in north Hillsborough for eight years, longer than most of the humans who work there. But now, the two cats have to go, according to a mandate issued last week by agency higher-ups. The deadline: Friday. Jennifer Higgins, an administrative deputy for District 1, has been trying for more than a week to find a home for the former strays, so far with no luck.

"I'm very sad to see them go," Higgins said. "I just don't want to see them go to the pound."

Caesius and Angie have been part of the District 1 family since 1996, when former Maj. Albert Perotti, an animal lover, had the strays fixed and sent the message around the office that they were to be treated well.

Today, laid-back Caesius and lovable Angie wander the parking lot and eat from bowls that the deputies leave out. When children come to the station, sometimes traumatized in cases of child abuse or other crimes, the cats provide comfort, Higgins said.

If you're interested in giving the cats a home, call Higgins at (813) 247-0600.

* * *

GIDDY UP: The Tampa Police Department's mounted patrol program is slowly building funds for a $150,000 training and kennel facility on 30 acres near Thonotosassa.

Wednesday, the program got $5,000 from Stadium Jumping Inc., a national producer of equestrian events, including the Raymond James Invitational. The gift brings the money in the construction coffer to $42,000, said Cpl. Mike Morrow, head of the mounted patrol. Police officials say the facility will allow them to expand training for the animals and the officers who use them.

Horses are now kept in five stalls at the Hunter Oaks stables, part of the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, after an expansion and renovation five years ago forced them out of a facility at McKay Bay. Dogs stay in kennels at their handlers' homes.

- Contact Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler at 813 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com Christopher Goffard is at (813) 226-3337 or goffard@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 27, 2004, 01:00:38]


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