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Ethics case dropped against former Judge Thomas Stringer

TAMPA — The state Judicial Qualifications Commission announced Thursday that it will no longer pursue ethics charges against a former appeals judge who came under fire for his financial dealings with a stripper.

Judge Thomas E. Stringer Sr. had vowed to fight the charges but then resigned abruptly last month from the 2nd District Court of Appeal, just days before he was scheduled to appear for a deposition in the case.

In a court filing with the Florida Supreme Court, JQC general counsel Michael Schneider cited Stringer's resignation and his promise to never again serve as a judge as the reasons for the ethics charges being dismissed.

The former judge's legal troubles might not be over, however. Last month, the stripper said the FBI was investigating the case.

Stringer's attorney, J. David Bogenschutz, did not return a call for comment Thursday. Previously, the attorney said it didn't seem fiscally wise for the JQC to continue its prosecution. Bogenschutz would not comment on possible FBI involvement.

The ethics allegations against Stringer, 64, seemed at odds with a man who made history as Stetson University's first black law school graduate and went on to a sterling record on the bench for more than two decades.

The charges mimicked accusations made last spring by Christy Yamanaka, a 48-year-old stripper with a history of financial problems who told reporters that Stringer owed her money for an investment they made together in a Hawaiian property.

Prosecutors took issue with Stringer entering into financial transactions with Yamanaka despite knowing about her bankruptcy. The ethics body accused him of providing Yamanaka with access to bank accounts opened in his name in order to keep her assets and income out of creditors' reach. He listed himself as the sole title holder on a residence in Hawaii that Yamanaka purchased, and allowed her to pay rent in cash on an apartment he leased for her in New York, according to the charges.

They also charged Stringer with taking unreported gifts from Yamanaka, including a Mercedes, two Rolex watches and vacations to Las Vegas and New York.

The judge previously acknowledged that he had been friends and business partners with her, but denied any wrongdoing.

"That is just so unfair," Yamanaka said of the JQC's decision. "Just because the victim happens to be a stripper … the judge can rip her off."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Ethics case dropped against former Judge Thomas Stringer 03/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 20, 2009 12:11am]
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