tampabay.com

Lawyer cleared in ethics cases

Arnold Levine was accused of snooping and trying to remove a judge.

By COLLEEN JENKINS and KEVIN GRAHAM, Times Staff Writers
Published December 6, 2007


TAMPA - Arnold Levine, a veteran Tampa lawyer accused by two Hillsborough County judges of ethical misconduct, was cleared Wednesday of any wrongdoing.

"The judge totally exonerated me," Levine said of the referee who presided over his Florida Bar trial in Clearwater this week. "It was a day where truth and justice prevailed."

Levine, 75, was accused of snooping on the desk of one Hillsborough judge and trying to improperly remove another judge from a case.

Pinellas Circuit Judge Cynthia Newton, acting as referee, dismissed half the case against Levine on Tuesday, and dismissed the other half Wednesday.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder had complained to the Bar that Levine tried to "engineer" his disqualification from a case involving a development dispute. He said Levine, upon learning that the judge was applying for appointment to the federal bench, wrote a disparaging letter to the nominating commission.

Then Levine used that letter as a basis to get the judge off his case.

Newton found there wasn't proof that Levine had such a goal in mind when he wrote the letter.

Holder declined to comment on the ruling, saying it would be inappropriate.

Scott Tozian, Levine's attorney, called it the "only just decision."

"I'm really pleased for Arnold," Tozian said. "To have his record besmirched at the twilight of his career would really be unfortunate."

On Tuesday, Newton said the Bar also didn't present enough evidence to show that Levine had committed an ethics breach when he removed documents from the desk of Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen in September 2006.

Over his nearly 50 years as a lawyer, Levine has handled some of the bay area's most prominent clients. He represented the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and handled multimillion-dollar divorces. And he persuaded a jury to go easy on a woman accused of hiring a hit man to kill her husband, known as the Lobster Boy.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or 813 226-3337.