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The court bailiff merry-go-round

By SUE CARLTON and AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 2000


In the community of the courthouse, judges and bailiffs can grow close. They spend days, even years, working together. They get to know each other's personalities and quirks.

That could soon change at Tampa's courthouse.

The sheriff has decided bailiffs will no longer be assigned to specific judges for long periods but instead will rotate between courtrooms. That change comes on the heels of an investigation that revealed details of an affair between Circuit Judge Gasper Ficarrotta and bailiff Tara Pisano, including the fact that the couple had sex in his chambers.

Also detailed was an unusually close relationship between Judge Ficarrotta and Cpl. Mike Sheehan, who supervises the bailiffs. The two shared a bank safe deposit box and often vacationed together. Ficarrotta, who has since resigned, was accused of raising campaign funds for the man who is boss to Sheehan and all the bailiffs, Sheriff Cal Henderson.

Though the change comes on the heels of all that, Henderson says he and Chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez had been talking for years of a rotation system. Bailiffs would be cross-trained and ready to work in any court.

"What happened was the investigation and the information obviously caused me to rethink the fact that we haven't rotated them," the sheriff said. "I decided now would be the right time. . . . I'm not doing it because of that."

Alvarez, by the way, won't be affected by the change. The two bailiffs assigned to the chief judge will not rotate to other courts.

Judges who have perfectly proper relationships with bailiffs they have come to know and trust won't necessarily be pleased by the change.

"I'm expecting probably some of the judges won't be happy about it," Henderson said.

FREE TO BE FOOLISH: Maybe the lure of some Christmas cash was just too much for one defendant to resist.

Omar G. Martinez had been released from jail by accident. While one judge had granted him bail on a cocaine charge, a computer glitch did not reveal that another judge had ordered "no bond" on a separate case. Martinez was let go.

This week, a friend of Martinez's showed up at the court clerk's office, asking for the form that would allow Martinez to get back his bail money.

A fast-thinking clerk noted the error, asked the man to wait and called the state attorney's office upstairs.

Soon after, prosecutor Robin Fuson was behind the Plexiglas window posing as a clerk, saying he couldn't release the cash without the signature of the defendant himself.

Be right back, the friend said. A few minutes later, he returned with Martinez in tow.

Two sheriff's deputies who appeared to be lingering nonchalantly in the lobby stepped up and made the arrest.

"His buddy wanted to know if he could still get the money back," Fuson said. "I told him he was going to have to wait."

PLAYING CHICKEN: In one of the odder moments in recent courthouse history -- and there have been some very odd ones -- State Attorney-elect Mark Ober noticed something unusual when he was halfway between his car and the courthouse.

It was a red rooster, strutting about on Kennedy Boulevard.

Perhaps the bird had wandered over from the yard of some homes near the interstate. Perhaps it had escaped from a livestock truck. Somehow, he had ended up in the middle of traffic, and in peril.

"He was headed westbound," Ober reported. He headed into traffic and stopped one car.

"I escorted it to safety," he said.

The rooster then headed for parts unknown, leaving observers to puzzle: Why did that chicken try to cross the road?

"That," Ober said, "is the ultimate question."

- Sue Carlton can be reached at (813) 226-3346 or carlton@sptimes. Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.

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