Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Law school grad, seeking to practice, gets civil rights restored

Law school graduate Jessica Chiappone, holding her son Gianni, got her civil rights restored by the governor and Cabinet Wednesday.

STEVE BOUSQUET | Times

Law school graduate Jessica Chiappone, holding her son Gianni, got her civil rights restored by the governor and Cabinet Wednesday.

TALLAHASSEE — A law school graduate and single mother of three, Jessica Chiappone of Boca Raton wants to practice law in Florida.

But nearly 15 years ago, she admitted her role in a drug conspiracy that made her a convicted felon, stripping her of her civil rights under Florida law.

She was traveling with people who had illegal narcotics and took a plea, even though she said she was not aware the drugs were in her presence.

Chiappone, 35, served seven months in a federal prison and worked to turn her life around. A graduate of Nova Southeastern's law school, she was prohibited from taking the Bar exam until her civil rights were restored.

Gov. Rick Scott and the three Cabinet members, meeting as the Board of Clemency, backed her cause Wednesday and restored her civil rights.

"You've completely turned your life around," Attorney General Pam Bondi told her. "You've done a remarkable thing."

"Good luck on the Bar exam," Scott told her after the vote.

Chiappone grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and had her rights restored automatically in New York when she completed her probation nearly a decade ago. She has spent 5 ½ years trying to regain the same rights in Florida.

"It's absurd," she said after driving through the night to the Capitol with her 6-month-old son, Gianni. "I feel like the system makes it harder for someone who's trying to make a difference. It's almost easier not to try anymore."

Chiappone's attorney, Mark Schlakman, noted that she has been trapped by an apparent inconsistency: Two years ago, the Legislature passed and Scott signed a law that said ex-felons do not need to have their civil rights restored to obtain state or professional licenses.

A special commission created by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Lewis disagrees. The commission in 2009 urged the Supreme Court to pass a rule prohibiting convicted felons from seeking Bar admission, even if their civil rights are restored.

The current threshold is "too low," the commission said, noting that a convicted felon cannot be a state law enforcement officer but could practice law.

The Board of Bar Examiners, which assesses the character and fitness of would-be lawyers, declined to support the recommendation and opted to support the status quo, which would help Chiappone's case.

Chiappone, holding her son after Wednesday's unanimous vote, said: "It's a step in the right direction, but I still have a huge uphill battle to face."

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Law school grad, seeking to practice, gets civil rights restored 06/26/13 [Last modified: Thursday, June 27, 2013 12:03am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas deputy in trouble for social media boast: 'Nothing like almost shooting someone'

    Public Safety

    LARGO — A Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy is under investigation after a photo that shows him boasting about almost shooting someone made the rounds on social media.

    A Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy is under investigation after a photo that shows him boasting about almost shooting someone made the rounds on social media. Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Spencer Gross on Thursday confirmed deputy Austen Callus' employment and said the agency is "aware of the social media post." [Facebook'
  2. ReliaQuest's benevolent hackers try to make companies more secure

    Corporate

    TAMPA — Their goal is to get in. Past a security desk, through a firewall, into a system they shouldn't have access to. Sometimes they'll look like a regular person in the lobby who innocently forgot their access badge. Most times they won't be seen at all, remotely and quietly prodding a company's systems from a …

    Angelo Castellano of Tampa works at his desk at ReliaQuest | | [CHARLIE KAIJO, Times]
  3. Watch the trailer for 'Mini Lights,' based on St. Petersburg's frightening urban legend

    Blogs

    Perhaps you've heard of the "mini lights." The tales can vary a bit, but generally, they're said to be nasty little creatures controlled by a witch that once lived near Booker Creek. They come out after dark to "get you."

    A scene from the proof of concept trailer for a mini lights movie.
  4. Democratic ad: Adam Putnam is 'silent' on GOP health bill

    Blogs

    Democrats are trying to attach Adam Putnam to the GOP’s unpopular plans to replace Obamacare.

  5. Competition and uncertainty keep New Port Richey's Steve Miklos hooked on power boat racing

    Outdoors

    HOLIDAY — If Steve Miklos could have it his way, every power boat race would take place in rough water. He finds the turbulent conditions calming, an attitude he's developed during a professional power boat racing career that spans hundreds of races dating back to 1991.

    Steve Miklos, the throttle man and owner of the No. 51 Sun Print Racing boat, poses at his shop in Holiday. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]