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Published August 1, 2006

Judge steps aside from dog custody case

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Kathleen Hessinger has recused herself from handling a lawsuit over the ownership of two dogs rescued and adopted after Hurricane Katrina, after one of the litigants made a formal request.

Jeffrey Brown, attorney for one of the defendants, Rhonda Rineker, made the motion to disqualify last month after Hessinger said that she knew and went to law school with Hillsborough prosecutor Pam Bondi, another litigant in the case.

Hessinger's order recusing herself from the case was dated July 27.

The case will be reassigned to another county judge on a regular rotation basis.

Rineker, Bondi and the Humane Society of Pinellas County are being sued by Steven and Dorreen Couture of Louisiana, in an effort to get back a St. Bernard and a shepherd-mix rescued by the Humane Society after Hurricane Katrina.

The St. Bernard was later adopted by Bondi and the shepherd-mix by Rineker. The matter is scheduled for trial in mid November.

Another condo tower in works for downtown

TAMPA - A former Florida State University offensive lineman turned developer wants to transform a downtown parking lot into a 36-story condo tower.

Nick Ekonomou said he thinks the condo construction remaking the west side of downtown can migrate northeast next to the Central Park Village public housing project.

With city officials planning to redevelop Central Park into a 2,000-unit complex with shops, Ekonomou said that an acre across from it, at 602 E Cass St., was a natural for a new condo tower.

"The potential for Central Park is sky-high," Ekonomou said. "Everything around it will change for the better."

He will seek approval from the Tampa City Council during a December public hearing, which is slated for 369 units and more than 11,000 square feet of office suites. On the ground floor will be shops and retail, he said.

Ekonomou scouted for property for months before deciding on the 1-acre lot, which, since 1986, has been owned by Conner Properties. Surrounding the land are more parking lots and a busy road, Jackson Street, used by motorists to hop on Interstate 275.

Ekonomou said he expects to close on the property soon, but wouldn't disclose the purchase price. He hopes to begin construction in the next two to three years.

[Last modified August 1, 2006, 01:34:07]

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