LARGO — Watching from her bench during a recent trial, Pinellas Circuit Judge Chris Helinger noticed defense attorney Tobias Pardue’s bizarre behavior.
Pardue, 47, was making snorting sounds and resting his head on the lectern while questioning witnesses. He also left the courthouse during jury deliberations.
"I am very concerned that you have conducted this trial high," Helinger told him in court on Feb. 14. "All of these things are abhorrent and bizarre and strange."
Helinger gave Pardue two options: Take a drug test, or spend 10 days in the Pinellas County jail.
He took the test, which came back positive for two substances. But because Pardue is taking several medications, additional drug analysis will be discussed at a hearing next week.
Pardue, who handles criminal and traffic cases at his Largo firm, declined to comment. He is represented by Tampa attorney Scott Tozian.
"I’m satisfied that when we’re able to explain Mr. Pardue’s side of the situation, that he’ll be exonerated," Tozian said.
Pardue was admitted to the Florida Bar in September 1997 and has had no disciplinary history in the last 10 years, state records show.
But his behavior during the two-day trial has raised concerns that he provided ineffective counsel to his client, Derrick Floyd. A jury found Floyd guilty of several drug and traffic-related charges. He awaits sentencing.
Floyd’s new attorney, Kelly McCabe, has requested another trial.
Helinger questioned Pardue about his behavior on Feb. 14. When he returned to the courthouse after leaving without her permission, the judge asked him to approach the lectern.
Helinger said she is aware Pardue has "a history of having an addiction problem."
"There’s a lot of people with addiction problems," she added. "I’m not in any way minimizing you."
The judge listed her concerns.
Pardue was late to court both days. He engaged in a "very unprofessional, bizarre conversation" with one prospective juror. In front of another one, Pardue said his client needed to pick up his daughter from school because she had a fever. It’s the kind of comment attorneys aren’t supposed to make in front of jurors.
He also made remarks to the jury about evidence that was never submitted in the trial.
While the jury deliberated, Pardue left the courthouse to handle a traffic case in St. Petersburg. He didn’t tell Helinger he was leaving.
"I was flabbergasted that a lawyer with your experience would just leave the courthouse," she told him.
Pardue told Helinger she had already left the bench, so he told bailiffs he was heading out.
"I got here and I ran as fast as I could to come up and be in the courtroom," he said.
When Helinger asked him to take a drug test, Pardue declined. It wasn’t until the judge mentioned jail time that Pardue agreed to take the test.
A Pinellas Sheriff’s Office lab technician told Helinger the test revealed the presence of amphetamine and benzodiazepine. Pardue said in court that he was prescribed several medications.
The technician couldn’t say whether any of Pardue’s prescriptions could cause a false positive without additional testing, so Helinger ordered Pardue to provide his prescriptions to the Sheriff’s Office.
A hearing to discuss the results of additional testing is scheduled for March 8.
State records show Pardue was arrested on a charge of possession of alprazolam in July that was later dropped. He has a prescription for that drug, he told Helinger on Feb. 14.
This isn’t the first time Pardue’s courtroom behavior has come under scrutiny.
According to her order, Helinger wrote that a trial last year ended in a mistrial because Pardue "was under the influence."
During that May 16 trial, Pardue was representing a man charged with misdemeanor battery. After opening statements, Pinellas County judge Cathy McKyton declared a mistrial based on a "health emergency."
"I can’t really comment further other than to say that your jury service is completed for this day," she told jurors.
The next month, his client pleaded no contest.
Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] Follow @lauracmorel.