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Former Tampa cop is a quick lawsuit study

By SUE CARLTON and AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000


The federal courthouse exudes an air of formality. As if filing a case there would not be daunting enough, imagine doing it without a lawyer.

That's where Harriet Mason found herself in February when a dispute with the attorney who filed her lawsuit against the city of Tampa led to the lawyer withdrawing from the case.

Mason, a 37-year-old mother of three, is a former Tampa police officer who claims her resignation in 1998 was prompted by racial discrimination and retaliation. TPD attorneys filed a denial.

Without a lawyer and lacking the retainer fees that others required, Mason, who was working full-time in customer service, decided to take a leap of faith and continue "pro se,' legalese for continuing on her own.

As her husband, Tommy, cared for the children, Mason scoured newspapers for similar cases, then researched them in the clerk's office. She bought a law dictionary and spent hours at the law library and on the Internet. She had subpoenas issued, performed depositions and filed motions.

It paid off.

Recently, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich, while dismissing two of Mason's counts, found that she had "created a genuine issue for trial" and that the discrimination case would move forward.

Mason said that she will renew her efforts to find a lawyer. She said she did have a little help.

"God just gave me the wisdom on what to do . . .," she said. "And the clerk at the federal courthouse is really helpful."

THE RULE OF LOVE: First, there was Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ed Ward, who resigned after being accused of making unwelcome sexual advances to women at the courthouse.

Now we have the scandals of Circuit Judge Robert Bonanno's extramarital affair with his former court clerk, and details of the fling between bailiff Tara Pisano and Circuit Judge Gasper Ficarrotta. Pisano is now the subject of a Sheriff's Office internal affairs inquiry into whether the affair indeed took place at work.

If so, the trysts violate department rules and regulations. While Sheriff's Office policy does not actually use the word "sex," making whoopee on duty is implied to be prohibited under language describing "conduct unbecoming a member of the Sheriff's Office," and can be punishable by dismissal.

Folks at the Tampa Police Department are not as shy. TPD's Manual of Regulations bluntly states, "Sexual activity involving on-duty TPD employees is contrary to the regulations and philosophy of the agency" and can get you canned, as well.

As for courthouse workers, Chief Judge Dennis Alvarez said there are no written rules to forbid judges from having sex at work.

JUDGE NOMINEES: Some familiar names make up the latest list to the governor for a Hillsborough circuit judgeship. This one being vacated by Gasper Ficarrotta, who retires this month in the face of an investigation.

And the nominees are: Charles Bergmann, Walter Lopez, Richard Zabak, County Judge Frank Gomez, Wayne Timmerman and Warren Zimmerman.

- Sue Carlton can be reached at 226-3346 or carlton@sptimes.com. Amy Herdy can be reached at 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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