Former appeals Judge Thomas E. Stringer Sr. disbarred

TAMPA — The Supreme Court of Florida has disbarred former appeals Judge Thomas E. Stringer Sr. for the next five years, a prohibition that takes effect immediately, according to an order entered Thursday.

Stringer's attorney, John Lauro, said the judge voluntarily sought disbarment following his guilty plea to a bank fraud charge in August.

"Judge Stringer has had a long and distinguished career as an attorney, but in light of recent developments, he felt that it was necessary to resign from the bar voluntarily," Lauro said.

Stringer, 65, resigned from the 2nd District Court of Appeal in February amid questions about his financial dealings with a stripper. In August, he pleaded guilty to lying on a loan application in 2004, claiming that none of the money used for the down payment was borrowed, when in fact he had gotten the cash from someone else.

He also stood accused of fraudulently obtaining a $350,000 mortgage for a Hawaiian home he bought with the stripper.

The one count of bank fraud to which Stringer pleaded carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Prosecutors have recommended Stringer serve no time behind bars because no one sustained a loss from the crime, and the loan was repaid. The government will seek to recoup from Stringer the $222,362 in proceeds from selling the home in Hawaii.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich will sentence Stringer Nov. 13.

"Consistent with his acceptance of responsibility, we all felt it was best that he resolve these matters prior to sentencing in November," Lauro said. "Our focus now is on the sentencing."

Stringer must also reimburse the Florida Bar $1,250 for the disciplinary process of disbarment.

The St. Petersburg Times previously reported that the judge jointly invested in the house with Christy Yamanaka, a stripper he befriended about 15 years ago.

Claiming she didn't get her share of profits when the house sold for $749,000 in 2006, Yamanaka took her grievances against the judge to the media and federal authorities last year. Her allegations marred Stringer's previously unblemished tenure and eventually led to ethics charges, Stringer's resignation and the federal prosecution.

Stringer made history as Stetson University's first black law school graduate and as Hillsborough County's first black circuit judge. Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in February 1999.

Lauro said it's standard in his representation of lawyers with felony convictions to seek disbarment, which he said "would almost be a matter of course."

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Former appeals Judge Thomas E. Stringer Sr. disbarred 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 10:54pm]

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