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Defender does not release audit

The Times still waits for Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt's audit, which she says proves her office didn't improperly copy software.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000


TAMPA -- For more than a week, Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt has talked about an audit she contends clears her of allegations by a fired employee that she condoned software piracy in her office.

But despite repeated requests by the St. Petersburg Times, Holt has yet to produce the audit.

Holt denied a oral request for the audit made by the Times June 15 and ignored a written request made Thursday, the day after she distributed a letter about the audit to other news media.

No one from Holt's office returned calls to the newspaper or its attorney, Thomas McGowan, Friday afternoon.

McGowan said he sent e-mail to Holt Friday after more than a dozen of his calls were ignored.

"I was told at different times there were no attorneys in the office, and no one in authority there," he said, "and this is allegedly because they are moving offices."

Even so, McGowan said, a public official has a responsibility to respond to a public records request, or risk violating Florida's Public Records Law.

"They've provided no legal reason as to why they haven't given it," he said. "In my opinion, they are unlawfully withholding it."

Pat Gleason, an assistant state attorney general in Tallahassee who specializes in public records laws, said audits paid for by public agencies must be released unless there is a specific exemption to the law. She said agencies can't choose to ignore a request.

"Any agency has an obligation to respond to a public records request," she said.

Holt first mentioned an audit the day before the Times reported allegations from her former head computer technician, Scott Moore. But she wouldn't answer questions about the audit.

Moore, 30, said he was fired after complaining about the alleged pirating of about $170,000 in computer software in the Public Defender's Office.

On Thursday, the Tampa Tribune reported Holt had released a letter from a company called Software House International about an audit it had conducted. The audit found no evidence of software piracy, the Tribune reported. The newspaper said Holt characterized the company as the software provider for her office.

Records, however, show at least four other vendors sold software to Holt's office. The records, released by Holt's office in response to a public records request by the Times seeking to document the software Holt's office purchased, showed nothing from Software House International.

A spokeswoman for Software House International declined comment. The company is based in Philadelphia. Its Web site lists a Tampa sales office.

The Tribune report did not include details of the audit.

- Times staff writer David Karp contributed to this article. Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3474 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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