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Holt's chief assistant resigns

Complaints of sexual harassment prompt the departure of Joe Registrato, the chief assistant public defender.

By SUE CARLTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 1998


TAMPA -- Chief Assistant Public Defender Joe Registrato resigned Friday in the wake of allegations that he groped a female lawyer during an after-work get-together at an Ybor City bar.

The 26-year-old lawyer reported to her boss, Public Defender Julianne Holt, that Registrato had made "unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances" during a going-away party for a fellow lawyer Nov. 13.

Holt said she accepted the resignation Friday after completing her investigation, which included interviews with several people who attended the gathering that night. The report does not specifically say whether Holt found Registrato to have behaved improperly.

"An allegation was brought to my attention, I investigated it, and I believe that the resolution is in the best interest of this office," Holt said.

Registrato, most recently in the news for representing Valessa Robinson, the 15-year-old charged with killing her mother, denies the allegation.

"That's not how I behave," said Registrato, 52, who was Holt's second-in-command. "I would not have done something offensive. If I offended the lady by accident, I am very, very sorry."

That Friday night, several employees from Holt's office were saying goodbye to two people leaving the office, starting out at a downtown bar and moving on to the Tampa Bay Brewing Co. in Ybor City.

Assistant Public Defender Jennifer D'Angelo later told Holt that members of the group were preparing to go to another bar when Registrato asked if she was with a male lawyer in the group.

She said that when she told him no, Registrato offered to "take care of" her, grabbed her breast and her buttocks, and put his tongue in her ear, Holt's report said. She said she was shocked, pulled away and left the bar.

In a taped interview, one lawyer said she was standing near D'Angelo and Registrato in the bar when she saw Registrato grab her breast and then pull her to him as if he was whispering in her ear.

Another lawyer said he saw Registrato make a motion toward D'Angelo's breast and saw Registrato pull her toward him. Two others said they felt Registrato "hugged Ms. D'Angelo for what they considered to be a long period of time," according to Holt's report. Others said they hadn't seen anything.

Witnesses said D'Angelo quickly left the bar and was crying on a bench outside. She told at least two people that night Registrato had groped her, according to investigative records.

Friday, Registrato said many people were coming and going in the bar that night and that he did not specifically recall touching D'Angelo.

"However, I want to make clear I would not have touched her inappropriately," he told Holt in a taped statement.

Registrato said if he had touched her inappropriately, it was inadvertent, and that the allegation involving her ear "just did not happen -- that's just not possible."

D'Angelo apparently went into the office the Sunday after the party and sent Holt a message marked "personal." She asked to schedule an appointment to talk to Holt about "a very uncomfortable incident . . . involving a high-ranking member of your administrative staff," according to an e-mail message.

D'Angelo declined to comment Friday.

On Monday, Nov. 16, Registrato adamantly denied he had done anything inappropriate but offered to resign his $93,000-a-year job, saying the allegation would "cause Miss Holt a great deal of grief."

Holt asked Registrato to allow her to complete the inquiry and accepted his resignation Friday.

Registrato, a former city editor for the Tampa Tribune, said he will go back to private practice, handling criminal defense and family law cases. He said he will offer to continue to represent Robinson, the teenager charged with murdering her mother, as well as Ray Johnston, accused of killing a Carrollwood woman.

"Joe was a hardworking employee dedicated to the representation of our clients," Holt said. "I hope he'll still consider himself my friend."

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