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Judge lowers sights for job

Judge Edward Ward has applied for work as a prosecutor or public defender after agreeing to retire from the bench because of a scandal.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 17, 2000


TAMPA -- A week after agreeing to retire rather than face sexual harassment charges, Judge Edward Ward has applied for work as a prosecutor and assistant public defender.

Ward sent a letter to Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger outlining his years of legal experience and training. The letter, dated June 12, makes no mention of the recent scandal.

Dillinger said Friday that Ward sent a similar letter to the Hillsborough County Public Defender's Office. Hillsborough State Attorney's Office spokeswoman Pam Bondi said her office also had received an employment request.

Dillinger, who had not talked with Ward, said his office considers all applications, although he thought Ward might be overqualified for the entry-level jobs he has to offer.

"I think there are more appropriate jobs for him, given his experience," Dillinger said. "I don't know whether he would really want what I have."

Ward could not be reached for comment Friday night.

An investigative panel with the Judicial Qualifications Commission found probable cause in March that Ward violated the state's canons of judicial conduct by engaging in a pattern of sexual harassment.

"These acts may impair the confidence of the citizens of this state and the integrity of the judicial system," the panel wrote.

Ward, 63, admitted to kissing a female judge, inviting a judicial assistant into his office for beer and sending e-mails hinting of sexual liaisons to two other women at the courthouse. But Ward, a judge in Hillsborough County for 18 years, denied his conduct constituted harassment.

At first, he made it clear he would fight the accusations. But last week, facing a hearing before the JQC in October that could have resulted in a reprimand or his dismissal from the bench, Ward sent a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush that stated he would step down effective Aug. 31. He said he did not want to cause his family and friends more embarrassment.

The JQC panel voted to drop the case after Ward agreed to include in his letter that he would not serve again on the bench, said the JQC's general counsel, Tom MacDonald Jr.

In the letter to Dillinger, Ward highlights his years on the bench as well as four years as an attorney in the U.S. Navy, teaching experience, corporate litigation and a short stint as an assistant state attorney.

"Of course, trial work is my chief interest; however, should your staffing needs and/or budgetary constraints and allocations warrant, an administrative assignment (e.g. Intake, Emergency Division, (first appearance) court, Domestic Violence, Felony or Misdemeanor Bureau, etc.) might also be a possibility," Ward wrote.

Ward's request for work did not surprise MacDonald. Ward's retirement from the bench did not preclude him from practicing law, MacDonald said.

"The JQC has no power to sanction him as a lawyer, only as a judge," MacDonald said. "It would be up to the Florida Bar to decide if any of the allegations rose to the level high enough to affect his status as a lawyer."

Ward was making $117,020 a year as a judge. Entry-level attorney's at the public defender's and state attorney's offices make about $30,000 to $35,000 annually.

If Ward takes a job as a prosecutor or assistant public defender, it will benefit his pension, although only at about half the rate it would have if he had remained a judge. He'll still be allowed to use his top five yearly salaries as a state employee in determining his yearly pension.

-- Times staff writer William R. Levesque contributed to this report. Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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