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Judge to break the color barrier

Amy Herdy and David Karp
Amy Herdy
David Karp

© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 13, 2001

Quietly next year, a milestone will be set at the Hillsborough County Courthouse. An African-American judge will join the circuit civil division for the first time.

The chief judge plans to assign Circuit Judge Perry Little to the civil division to replace Judge Dick Greco Jr., who is resigning to join a law firm.

Most judges consider the civil division the plum assignment. It's where Tampa's tony downtown law firms conduct most of their business. An African-American judge has never gotten the assignment before.

Little, who has heard juvenile cases for about five years, wasn't itching to move up. For black history month in February, he wrote a personal history for the Times, saying he stayed in the unprestigious juvenile division to serve as a role model for the African-American teenagers who appear before him.

But this week, as Little checked out Greco's office, he said he was ready for a change.

We think the courthouse is too.

FALLING OUT OF FAVOR: Prosecutor Robin Fuson was one of the larger personalities walking the courthouse halls of late. A former minor-league baseball player, Fuson would barrel into a courtroom with an armful of paperwork and a pithy quote.

But on Tuesday, Fuson resigned over a dispute with State Attorney Mark Ober.

A memo in Fuson's personnel file explains what happened: Fuson reduced charges in four criminal cases without a supervisor's approval. Fuson did this three times after Ober issued an e-mail reminding prosecutors they need a supervisor's approval to reduce charges.

There was no excuse for Fuson's "gross insubordination," Assistant State Attorney Doug Covington wrote in the memo.

Under former State Attorney Harry Lee Coe, Fuson was a favorite. He ran the drug division and prosecuted high-profile athletes like former Yankees slugger Darryl Strawberry and former Buccaneer Tyoka Jackson.

Fuson wasn't happy when he got demoted after Ober's election. Ober also wouldn't allow Fuson to take a leave of absence to run against a sitting judge.

"I had to think on my feet and it ruffled some feathers," Fuson said. "I no longer wanted to work in that environment."

He compared his actions to the quick thinking of Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who came up with a couple of clutch plays in this year's World Series.

Fuson plans to open a private practice, and he hinted he may run for office in 2004, possibly against Ober.

"My entire life, other than playing baseball, my ambition has been to be the state attorney of Hillsborough County," Fuson said. "Sometimes you have to be pushed."

GET IN LINE, EVERYONE: Nearly 30 lawyers have applied for an open appointment on the circuit bench. Among the more interesting names: attorney Anthony Black, former prosecutor Michelle Peden, Assistant U.S. Attorney Warren Zimmerman, prosecutor Doug Covington, and County Judge Denise Pomponio, a relative of embattled Circuit Judge Robert Bonanno.

READY FOR ANYTHING: Behind Deputy Chief Gilbertina Wright's sweet smile is the soul of a survivor.

Wright, a 21-year veteran of the Tampa Police Department, has been diagnosed with breast cancer -- twice. Her faith, family and friends helped her successfully complete treatment.

This year, she was one of a select few Tampa Bay residents chosen to carry the Olympic torch. Wright, who carried the torch two-tenths of a mile through downtown Orlando, has a simple explanation for her ability to survive cancer.

"I'm the type who likes to give things a good fight," she said.

NEXT RUMOR: If anyone thought Tampa police Chief Bennie Holder was up for the U.S. Marshal spot in Florida, a look at the list of applicants would put that idea to rest.

In alphabetical order, the list contains a Hodges and then skips on to Hudson. No Holder.

Those who whispered of his departure will now have to find a new rumor.

- Got a tip? Amy Herdy is at 226-3386 or, and David Karp is at 226-3376 or Staff writer Tamara Lush contributed to this report.

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