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Lawyer withdraws from ethics case

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 2001


TAMPA -- A lawyer who helped build an ethics charge against Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway withdrew from the case this week after coming under attack from the judge's lawyer.

Thomas MacDonald Jr. no longer will work on the case against Holloway, who faces charges of violating the judicial conduct code.

As the general counsel to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the state agency that regulates judges, MacDonald had launched an inquiry into Holloway that led to charges in October.

Holloway faces a hearing this summer on charges that she used her position as a judge to influence a friend's child custody case and then lied about it. If found guilty of violating judicial canons, she could be removed from the bench.

MacDonald "voluntarily withdrew because he does not want in any shape or form to become an issue in this case," said Judge James R. Wolf, a state appellate judge who is chairman of the JQC. "He wants it tried on the facts, and not on Tom MacDonald."

"Let me preface everything by saying that Tom MacDonald has done nothing wrong," Wolf said. "He is a man of the highest integrity."

Judges have been complaining for weeks about leaks of JQC investigations, which under the state Constitution are supposed to be kept confidential.

"I don't think I have ever heard of this happening before these recent Hillsborough cases," Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Susan Schaeffer said. "Either these matters are confidential or they are not. If they are confidential, people can't leak this information to the press."

This week, the Tampa Tribune reported on what it called a new JQC investigation into Holloway. The Tribune reported that the JQC wanted to investigate why Holloway had not disclosed gifts from a close friend, Chris Sullivan, co-owner of Outback Steakhouse.

Judicial rules do not require judges to disclose gifts from friends, Holloway's attorney, Scott Tozian, said.

It stunned Tozian that the Tribune began calling him and the judge about the allegations days before a JQC investigator contacted Sullivan. A Tribune reporter also called last year the day before a hearing with the JQC at an airport hotel.

"A reasonable person would conclude that the leak is coming from the JQC," Tozian said.

On Monday, Tozian asked the JQC chairman to remove MacDonald from the case. In addition to the leaks, he cited comments about Holloway's husband that he said were made by MacDonald..

During secret discussions, Tozian said, MacDonald told him that he did not like Holloway's husband, lawyer C. Todd Alley, who years ago worked in the same law firm with MacDonald.

"He said it several times," Tozian said.

MacDonald on Wednesday denied saying anything to Tozian about Holloway's husband.

"I did not tell Scott Tozian any such thing," MacDonald said. "I have no reason to dislike Todd Alley. I have not seen him for 12 to 15 years."

He also denied leaking any confidential information to the press. "I would really hope we could just have the case tried on the merits and be done with it," MacDonald said. "But I won't be a part of it."

MacDonald said he has played no role in the Holloway case since October. He hired a lawyer from Miami to prosecute the case.

"I disassociated myself from the case entirely," MacDonald said.

But in response to MacDonald's denial, Tozian produced letters and court papers sent to MacDonald as recently as last month. "He has a lot of input into how the case proceeds," Tozian said.

In March, Tozian told JQC officials that he would no longer send copies of court papers to MacDonald. The JQC then instructed Tozian to continue doing so, records show.

"That is just a perfunctory thing," MacDonald said of the copies.

"When I say I have no role, I don't direct special counsel," he said. "I don't instruct her, all of which are things I usually do in cases."

As for his decision this week, MacDonald said the JQC chairman asked him recently whether he would get involved in the case as it heads to a hearing.

"I told him in view of all this, I will continue to stay out of it," MacDonald said. "We talked about whether I should get back into it, and I won't."

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