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Sanctions over leaks requested

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000

TAMPA -- The attorney for Circuit Judge Robert Bonanno is asking for sanctions against the Tampa Tribune after the newspaper reported details of a sealed grand jury report.

A Hillsborough grand jury, appointed to explore what Bonanno was doing after hours in a fellow judge's office, handed down a report of its findings and recommendations Friday. Bonanno's attorney, Ralph Fernandez, then exercised his right to review those findings before they were made public. The law gives subjects of such reports 15 days to file motions to expunge or repress parts they find objectionable. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer, appointed to preside over the matter, ordered the report sealed.

But Saturday, a Tribune article gave various details, including reports that Bonanno had an affair with a court clerk and that the grand jury recommended Bonanno step down from the bench. In a motion faxed to the judge Tuesday, Bonanno's attorney said there had been a "willful affront to the dignity of the court." The motion mentioned the possibility of contempt of court.

"This case has eroded the purpose of a grand jury," Fernandez said Tuesday.

But Tribune lawyer Gregg Thomas disagreed. "Any effort to suppress information obtained by the Tribune in this matter would be a complete violation of the First Amendment," Thomas said. "The public interest is better served by having this information as soon as possible."

Schaeffer was out of town and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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