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Public will buy story grand jury has to sell

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By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000


Ralph Fernandez has apparently already forgotten that while most of America said it was sick and tired of hearing about the disgusting things Monica and Bill did in that room near the Oval Office, most of America also soaked up every single disgusting detail.

Fernandez is the lawyer for that most famous fella found sneaking around in the dark, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Bob Bonanno. Pity the poor judge. A group of citizens, a grand jury, held his feet to the fire and wanted to know just what he was doing in the dark in the office of another judge, Greg Holder, when Holder was gone one day last summer.

Judges are not used to having their feet held to the fire. Imagine the inconvenience.

Now Fernandez is hinting about how the grand jury may be about to issue a report -- not an indictment, mind you, containing criminal charges, but a report of who did what when and what the grand jury thought of it all.

This likely means the grand jurors will not blow kisses at Bonanno.

They may not like him at all.

So of course Ralph Fernandez is already making noises that he'll try to keep part or all of the report, whenever it comes out, a secret.

LOL, Ralph.

His first problem is public opinion. Everybody loves to be let in on a secret.

His second problem is that lots of people could tell you, or anybody else within earshot, a thing or two about some judge they once stood before. Revenge being sweet, they'd get a kick out of seeing any judge get his knuckles rapped.

His third problem is the Monica-Bill thing. You say sex and go find me the person who doesn't sit up and pay close attention. Even Ralph Fernandez thinks the report will reveal a "Peyton Place, Tampa-style."

People in the courthouse gossiped -- and how they love to gossip -- that Bonanno was in Holder's office looking for anything written down by a bailiff who was playing around with still another judge, Gasper Ficarrotta.

In this courthouse, the hip bone is always connected to the thigh bone. All roads lead to Rome.

As a result of what Ficarrotta's bailiff/girlfriend knew, the grand jury also nosed around about whether Ficarrotta was raising money on the sly for Hillsborough Sheriff Cal Henderson. This is, oops, against the law.

Ficarrotta has also had his feet held to the fire. If he were talking, he would almost certainly say it was no fun at all. It was so little fun, Ficarrotta has said he's quitting.

Ralph Fernandez has still a fourth problem, and it's much harder to beat than the vagaries of human nature, like loving to dish and hear secrets, the resentment of the power of judges, and our most tasteless but quite natural interest in who's messing around with whom.

The fourth problem is the law.

It says you can't keep a grand jury report, or presentment, secret unless you can prove the report contains information that is "improper and unlawful."

This gobbledygook means you can keep secret any part of the report not backed up by facts -- rumors and such -- and anything that went beyond the grand jury's authority.

But judges rarely side with the Fernandezes and Bonannos of this world, since the grand jury is looking into what Bonanno and God knows who else did on the public dime.

Imagine the inconvenience of having to tell.

Ralph will face an even harder job, because there isn't a reporter in this town who will sit still for keeping the report secret.

So goes the world. At least the lawyers will get rich.

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