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Sembler eases suit against trash picker

A judge will still decide whether sifting through garbage is stalking.

By CURTIS KRUEGER
Published December 29, 2006


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ST. PETERSBURG - Former Ambassador Mel Sembler is dropping parts of a lawsuit against a man who rooted through his trash.

In exchange, an attorney for Richard Bradbury acknowledged that his client did, in fact, search through the garbage of the former U.S. ambassador to Australia and Italy, retrieve a penile pump and try to sell it on eBay.

"I'm thankful that this portion of it's concluded," Bradbury said Thursday. Sembler was in Israel and could not be reached for comment.

Their legal battle, however, is not over. Coming next: whether Bradbury's trash-diving constituted stalking.

If Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Mark Shames rules that Bradbury violated the state stalking statute, he could be permanently barred from coming near Sembler, his wife and their home.

Bradbury did not violate the statute, which is unconstitutional anyway, his attorney, Thomas McGowan, said Thursday.

The dispute dates back two decades, starting when a 17-year-old Bradbury stayed in Straight Inc., a controversial Pinellas Park drug rehab center the Semblers founded. Bradbury and numerous other critics charge that the now-defunct Straight used excessive force and other abuses against its clients.

Bradbury organized anti-Straight activists for years and spoke out against the group long after its closing. For about a decade, he also sifted through the trash outside Sembler's Treasure Island home. About three years ago he found a discarded penile pump that had belonged to Sembler and put it up for sale on eBay for $300,000.

The Semblers filed a lawsuit that called Bradbury's actions "so dark and fringe as to outrage common sensibilities" and "an invasion into the sanctity of our home and our bedroom." They said Bradbury's actions constituted an invasion of Sembler's privacy and "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

At a hearing Thursday, attorney Leonard Englander said Sembler was willing to drop those portions of the lawsuit. In exchange, McGowan acknowledged in court that Bradbury went through the Semblers' trash and tried to sell the pump.

Now Judge Shames will decide whether those actions mean Bradbury violated the state stalking statute. If so, Shames could issue a permanent injunction - replacing the current temporary one - ordering Bradbury to stay 1,000 feet away from the Semblers as well as their attorney.

Bradbury said Thursday he believes his unusual actions helped publicize the abuses of the Straight program. He said he has no more plans to go through the Semblers' trash.

"I accomplished what I set out to do, which was to draw attention to what they did to us kids," Bradbury said.

 

What's next

Judge Mark Shames will consider whether Richard Bradbury violated the state stalking statute. If he did, the judge could make a temporary injunction permanent and order Bradbury to stay 1,000 feet away from the Semblers.

 

[Last modified December 28, 2006, 23:57:07]


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