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Security company reports clash with former Hillsborough judge

TAMPA — Robert Bonanno was once a powerful judge in Hillsborough County. He didn't have to deal with security to enter his chambers in the old courthouse on Pierce Street.

Things changed after Bonanno resigned amid a 2001 ethics investigation.

On Friday, Bonanno was just another lawyer headed into the State Attorney's Office, meaning he had to go through metal detectors. But, according to a report, he thought he was above the rules and lashed out with a racial insult.

Bonanno didn't want to put his wallet through an X-ray machine, private security company G4S reported to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

"The subject, a private attorney, began yelling that he does not need to go through that process due to who he is," reported security officer Marie Leggon.

Another officer told him those were the rules.

"He started calling me names, like 'stupid dumb black lady' and 'low life,' " security officer Lurene Easterly reported. "I asked him not to call me names. He kept calling me names. I told him, 'I will call a deputy.' He said, 'Call them.' He didn't care."

Bonanno eventually put his wallet in the X-ray machine and passed through security. Two minutes later, he returned, ready to leave.

This time, deputies were on their way.

"I asked him to please wait for law enforcement to come over," Leggon said. "The subject continued yelling that no one can make him stay as he exited the door."

When deputies arrived, Bonanno was gone.

Witnesses at the State Attorney's Office recognized the former judge. Deputies pulled up a photo from his law firm website. The officers confirmed it was him.

Bonanno faces no charges, said sheriff's Col. Jim Previtera. He wasn't required to stay and wait for a deputy. The former judge isn't the only attorney who has ever been rude to a security officer.

"Unfortunately, there's a very small number of attorneys who enter the courthouse who routinely engage in this kind of conduct toward the screeners and the deputies," Previtera said.

None, however, has prompted the private security company to file a report for this kind of behavior, Previtera said.

Bonanno's downfall began in 2000, when a bailiff found him after hours in another judge's darkened office. That judge, Gregory Holder, was out of town.

A grand jury found that Bonanno told "incredible and conflicting" stories about why he was in Holder's office.

A state House committee had begun impeachment proceedings when Bonanno stepped down. He otherwise would have faced questions about a courthouse affair, the sealing of cases and the purchase of a $450,000 model home.

Bonanno, 66, runs a for-profit course aimed at helping people stay out of trouble while on probation. He didn't return two phone messages or an e-mail about Friday's incident.

"I would certainly hope that he was having a bad day," Col. Previtera said, "and that his behavior won't be repeated."

Times staff writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.

Security company reports clash with former Hillsborough judge 07/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 12:32am]
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