Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Client-turned-adversary accuses Tampa law firm of conflict in judicial bid

TAMPA — Chris Rodems wants to be a judge. In the past year, he has applied for five openings on the Hillsborough County bench.

One of his law partners and close friends, Chris Barker, is vice chairman of the commission that has considered Rodems' applications and nominated him for several of the positions.

Is that a conflict of interest?

Neil Gillespie thinks so. The former Tampa Bay area resident, who is involved in a lengthy legal dispute with Barker and Rodems' law firm, filed a complaint this month with the Governor's Office. He argues, among other things, that Barker's position gives his law partner an unfair advantage.

But Barker and Pedro Bajo Jr., chairman of the 13th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, said they've taken steps to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Each time Rodems has applied, Barker — one of nine commission members — has not participated in any interviews, deliberations or votes involving his law partner or has recused himself from the entire nominating process.

"We all know several of the applicants in some fashion," Bajo said. "So the question is, does it create a conflict or not create a conflict? We try to bend over backwards to make sure any perceived conflicts are addressed appropriately."

The commission vets the candidates and recommends a short list to Gov. Charlie Crist, who makes the final decision. "Just as I don't have the JNC in my pocket, I definitely don't have him," Barker said.

Bajo said an attorney's membership on the commission should not disqualify his or her partners from applying for judgeships. Barker and Rodems are partners at a three-lawyer firm, but Bajo and other commission members work for firms with hundreds of attorneys.

Excluding all those attorneys from the potential pool of applicants would not be in the best interest of the process, Bajo said.

Gillespie, 53, is a former client of the Barker, Rodems & Cook law firm. He filed a suit against attorney Bill Cook and the firm for fraud and breach of contract in 2005 and has been in contentious litigation with them since.

Several of his claims have been dismissed, and he has been sanctioned by the courts. He has moved to disqualify three judges from the case, most recently contending that Circuit Judge James Barton's actions contributed to the death of Gillespie's mother.

Gillespie also has written Crist and Bajo to oppose Rodems' judicial applications. Bajo said the JNC fully investigated Gillespie's complaints.

Rodems, a board-certified civil trial attorney, is among six nominees being considered by the governor to fill retiring County Judge Raul "Sonny" Palomino Jr.'s position. On Monday, the JNC also will interview him for a vacant circuit court seat.

"I think he's regarded as a very good, solid, strong candidate," Bajo said. Barker has not been involved in either proceeding.

Rodems points out that he previously was among those recommended for six judgeships in Polk County, where his law partner is not a member of the JNC. In Hillsborough, he has so far been nominated for three of the five positions he sought.

"I'm actually batting a thousand in Polk County, and not quite so good in Hillsborough County," he quipped.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at or (813) 226-3337.

Client-turned-adversary accuses Tampa law firm of conflict in judicial bid 01/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 11:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. For starters: Rays vs. Angels, vs. Odorizzi on mound


    After losing Sunday's game but winning a third straight series, the Rays open a four-game series tonight against the Angels and Mike Trout.

    RHP Jake Odorizzi will be on the mound for the Rays, RHP J.C. Ramirez for the Angels.

    Evan Longoria is getting a DH day, so the Rays have rookie Daniel …

  2. Citigroup agrees to pay nearly $100 million fine for Mexican subsidiary


    NEW YORK — Citigroup has agreed to pay nearly $100 million to federal authorities to settle claims that a lack of internal controls and negligence in the bank's Mexican subsidiary may have allowed customers to commit money laundering.

    Citigroup has agreed to pay nearly $100 million to federal authorities to settle claims that a lack of internal controls and negligence in the bank's Mexican subsidiary may have allowed customers to commit money laundering. 
[Associated Press file photo]

  3. Bob Buckhorn apologizes amid online uproar over his joke about pointing machine gun at journalists


    The office of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn issued a statement Monday afternoon saying Buckhorn is apologizing to combat journalists for a joke he made last week about pointing …

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn fires a .50 caliber machine gun from a rigid hull inflatable boat during a Special Operations Capabilities Demonstration at the Tampa Convention Center last year.
  4. Eckerd grad presses for answers after closure of Program for Experienced Learners


    ST. PETERSBURG — It’s not unusual for colleges to end programs or discontinue majors that suffer from low enrollment.

    Eckerd College
  5. Controversial pick for next principal of St. Petersburg High put on hold


    Robert Gagnon was all set to be the new principal at St. Petersburg High, a plum position in the Pinellas County school district. His name was on a list of top administrative candidates to be approved at a special School Board meeting Tuesday.

    Robert Gagnon, who currently serves as an assistant principal at Northeast High in St. Petersburg, was tapped to lead St. Petersburg High next year pending School Board approval. The recommendation for his appointment was pulled from the School Board agenda by school district superintendent Mike Grego on Monday in light of "new information shared with me" regarding Gagnon's administrative experience in Lake County, according to an email sent to Pinellas County School Board members.