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Details of judge's misadventures are revealed

Police say Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Charles Cope tried to kiss and touch a woman in California, leading to a misdemeanor battery charge.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2001

Police say Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Charles Cope tried to kiss and touch a woman in California, leading to a misdemeanor battery charge.

A Pinellas judge charged with trying to get into the California hotel room of two women attempted to kiss one of them and tried to touch her breasts during an earlier encounter, police say.

Police in Carmel, Calif., said the advance by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Charles Cope in April was unexpected and unwanted by the 31-year-old woman, who became frightened and ran away from the judge.

Details of the allegation against Cope first surfaced publicly in documents released last week by the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which has charged Cope with violating judicial canons.

Carmel police confirmed details of the incident Wednesday and said it provided the basis for a misdemeanor battery charge against Cope. The basis for that charge had never previously been explained by police or prosecutors.

Cope did not return a call for comment. But attorney Bob Merkle, who said he will help represent Cope on the criminal charges in California, said the judge denies ever making a sexual advance to the woman.

"It didn't happen," Merkle said. "All I'm comfortable telling you at this point is that there was no offensive touching."

Cope faces five misdemeanor charges in a Monterey County, Calif., court trial scheduled for late February. Besides battery, he is charged with prowling, peering into an inhabited dwelling, aggravated trespassing and petty theft.

A separate Florida proceeding by the Judicial Qualifications Commission could result in Cope being removed from the bench or being reprimanded, if he is found to have violated judicial canons.

Cope, 52, a married father of three who is on indefinite paid leave, had been drinking while in Carmel to attend a judicial conference in April, police said.

Police said he met the women, a 64-year-old mother and her daughter, at their hotel room in a chance encounter. Soon after, the three were stopped by police as they walked down the middle of a Carmel street in the early morning while all were highly intoxicated, police said.

Police offered all a ride back to their separate hotels. Cope asked an officer to leave the daughter with him at his hotel while police drove the mother back, police said. They said the daughter refused.

The mother and the daughter were driven back to their hotel.

In information released this week, police said Cope then walked back to the women's hotel several blocks away and asked the daughter to go for a walk on the beach.

During that walk, police said, Cope tried to kiss the woman's mouth and touch her. The woman fled, police said.

"She expressed the concern at the time that he would chase her," said Carmel police Lt. Warren Poitras. "He did not. She had no wish to see him again."

The next morning, police said Cope tried to get into the women's hotel room using a key that the women said he had earlier stolen from them. The women said only the chain on the hotel room's door kept him out of their room.

Police said Cope fled when the women called 911. Police stopped him walking a short distance away.

Merkle said the daughter, who, along with her mother, has not been identified by police, has told police several different stories and did not report the beach incident to police until a day had passed.

He said prosecutors filed the battery charge months after charging Cope with prowling and peering into an inhabited dwelling in retaliation after a plea deal collapsed. Prosecutors could not be reached for comment.

"They filed the battery charge because Judge Cope refused to knuckle under to their pressure," Merkle said.

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