Public defender a parking vigilante?

By JOSE CARDENAS, Times Staff Writer
Published August 30, 2007

Courthouse regulars know to arrive early at parking-deprived Pinellas County Circuit Court.

Joan Bonnain, 48, learned that the hard way Wednesday when a desperate move to find a space put her on a collision course with Public Defender Bob Dillinger.

The result: a blocked car, a miffed driver and two parking tickets.

It started when Bonnain, a witness in a case, arrived at the courthouse late for a 9 a.m. deposition.

She searched in vain for a space for 20 minutes before parking her 1988 Mercedes-Benz in a reserved space.

"I was afraid I would be held in contempt of court," said Bonnain, a telemarketer from Madeira Beach. "That's what the subpoena said."

A few minutes later, Dillinger arrived to find no reserved spaces available. He was late for a meeting with Pinellas Chief Judge Robert Morris, State Attorney Bernie McCabe and Clerk of the Court Ken Burke.

Dillinger parked his Jeep behind Bonnain's car. He told deputies about the illegally parked car and said he would be in a meeting with Morris.

When Bonnain came out and saw her car blocked, she was angry. She was even less pleased when she received a $30 ticket for parking in a reserved space.

Deputies told her the blocking car belonged to Dillinger. She wasn't impressed. "I got a ticket," she said. "It doesn't mean I should be blocked."

Bonnain accused Dillinger of abuse of power. She urged deputies to tow the car or cite it. She threatened to call the news media.

For an hour and 12 minutes, deputies searched for Dillinger. In the end, they wrote Dillinger a $30 ticket, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda.

As soon as his meeting was over, Dillinger said he sent someone to move his car. He said he wanted to avoid Bonnain because she was upset.

Dillinger said he believes he received a ticket because Bonnain complained so loudly. "If she hadn't parked there, there wouldn't be a problem," he said.

Jose Cardenas can be reached at 727 445-4224 or jcardenas@sptimes.com.