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Eyebrow-raisers at the courthouse, old and new

It sounded so much like the bad old days at the Hillsborough County courthouse.

This ex-judge, see, one who retired in the face of serious questions back when scandal was pretty much daily over there, came up with this, whaddaya call it, business model.

As the Times' Colleen Jenkins reported, people on probation pay former Judge Robert Bonanno's "Probation & Violation Center" 65 bucks for a four-hour course on how to get through it successfully. (The state offers the classes for free).

Afterward, some judges wipe away at least some community service hours the probationer owes. And everyone walks away happy, right?

Naturally, Bonanno introduced this business to old courthouse colleagues over a nice, say, ropa vieja at Valencia Garden, the place where the real politics and schmoozing used to get done around here. Vintage courthouse!

Except.

This week, a judicial advisory opinion said it is ethically okay for a judge to let a probationer take a class in exchange for waiving those hours. (Though the opinion did not deal with the fact that the class is offered by a former judge, much less what was going on when he left.)

And while it's much more delicious to think the three judges who have given credit for the course are in cahoots with Bonanno, hanging around a courtroom would lead you to believe otherwise.

Judges want probationers to finish probation. Judges do not want to see them again, ever. Judges had more than 12,000 probation violations in the last fiscal year. And maybe sometimes pushing for expedience can blind you to perception. Misguided? Maybe. The bad old days? Probably not.

And hey, give Bonanno the nod for that business model. Some cats will always land on their feet.

Still, shouldn't judges keep the past in mind? Even in a town with a stunning capacity to forgive, they should not forget Bonanno lurking in the office of a fellow judge or those lingering questions about a courthouse affair, the sealing of cases and … you get the idea.

This may not be the bad old days, but they're awfully hard to forget. Especially when you remind us.

In other news, some Hillsborough judges wanted state lawmakers to know of their concern about the potential for their pay and/or retirement to be cut. (Gosh, what's that like?) A letter to Tallahassee was constructed forthwith. One draft said lawmakers not taking their side "would be an evisceration of our tri-cameral system of government." (Ow! Evisceration would hurt!)

Though they did take a 2 percent nip last year, some judges did not rush to sign, perhaps thinking it still sounded a bit let-them-eat-cake. (Or maybe they were thinking of those without six-figure salaries, like court clerks dealing with dozens of their colleagues gone and unpaid furlough days to boot.)

That reluctance may have led to another version of the letter. This one had no printed names underneath the line on which the judge was to sign — maybe the blank, unsigned ones would have been too embarrassing. (Plus, if you write like a doctor, no one would know it was you!)

As of Thursday, the letter was dead, "though there is rumor of resurrection next year." (Further affiant sayeth naught.)

Eyebrow-raisers at the courthouse, old and new 04/22/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 22, 2010 11:49pm]

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