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Counsel sought in judge inquiry

After a judge is found in another's office, Hillsborough's state attorney seeks an independent prosecutor.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 12, 2000


TAMPA -- A state attorney from another county will decide whether to file charges against a judge found after hours in another judge's office.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Jack Rudy asked Gov. Jeb Bush to assign an independent prosecutor to avoid any perceived bias since Rudy and his attorneys know both judges: Gregory Holder and Robert Bonanno.

Bush will not make the assignment until next week, a spokesman said Friday. Independent prosecutors normally come from nearby counties, and Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe already is overseeing an investigation into the circumstances surrounding State Attorney Harry Lee Coe's suicide last month.

Holder's regular bailiff, sheriff's Deputy Sylvia Gay, said she came across Bonanno in Holder's office on July 27 at 5:20 p.m.

Gay, Hillsborough's bailiff of the year in 1999, said she saw a shadow on the wall, called out twice and no one responded. A couple of seconds passed before Bonanno walked out. She wrote that Bonanno appeared to be "trying (to) conceal himself from me."

Holder said most of his colleagues knew he was in Virginia that week for Air Force Reserve training. Holder called Bonanno's behavior "hostile" and "highly unprofessional" and asked for an investigation.

Bonanno has said through his attorney, Ralph Fernandez, that he was looking for Holder and in no way was he doing anything wrong.

Bonanno walked in through an unlocked door, Fernandez said, and was not "skulking around in the dark."

The Sheriff's Office, with help from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, completed an investigation and referred the results to Rudy. Neither Rudy nor the Sheriff's Office would comment on the findings.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission, which regulates the judiciary, also is looking into the matter.

Fernandez said he would have liked to have the case wrapped up Friday but understood why Rudy felt itnecessary toseek another prosecutor. He said he was confident Bonanno would be exonerated.

"Sometimes people put themselves in an embarrassing position," Fernandez said. "But when all is said and done, it turns out to be nothing at all."

Holder praised Rudy's decision and urged everyone to let the process runs its course.

"I have a great and abiding faith in three things: God, law enforcement and the Judicial Qualifications Commission," he said.

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