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    House requests Bonanno transcripts

    A House panel seeks the testimony for the impeachment case of a circuit judge in Tampa.

    By DAVID KARP

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published October 18, 2001


    TAMPA -- Legislators considering the impeachment of Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robert Bonanno want to look at secret grand jury testimony about him.

    State Rep. Larry Crow, R-Dunedin, who chairs the House Judicial Oversight Committee, said he didn't know how the Legislature would obtain the testimony, which remains under seal by court order. The committee meets Tuesday to discuss the case.

    "I think we will take a very aggressive stance in trying to get all information," Crow said.

    A grand jury heard testimony last year about Bonanno's presence after hours in the darkened office of a fellow judge, and suggested Bonanno had lied under oath. The grand jury recommended he resign.

    However, the state's Judicial Qualifications Commission conducted a separate investigation and recommended only a reprimand. The Florida Supreme Court will consider that recommendation.

    In addition, the House Judicial Oversight Committee will hold impeachment proceedings against Bonanno, and the legislators involved want the grand jury testimony.

    Both Bonanno and the JQC already have asked the Florida Supreme Court to unseal the testimony. Bonanno has said it will help him defend his reputation. The JQC has said the testimony will help the Supreme Court decide if Bonanno lied before the grand jury.

    But State Attorney Jerry Hill of Polk County, who brought witnesses before the grand jury, wants the testimony kept secret.

    At Hill's request, the Florida attorney general filed a motion Wednesday blocking the release of the transcripts. The Attorney General's Office wants the judge in St. Petersburg who presided over the grand jury to hold a hearing on the transcripts.

    "The law is fairly clear about grand jury testimony," Deputy Attorney General George Sheldon said Wednesday. "There is a presumption of secrecy to protect witnesses."

    The Florida Constitution gives the JQC the right to review grand jury testimony.

    JQC special counsel Lauri Ross said the JQC should be able to use the grand jury testimony too.

    -- Times staff writer David Karp is at (813) 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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