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Judge denies Bollea's request for move from solitary cell

Nick Bollea, the most famous ward of the Pinellas County Jail, won't be removed from his solitary cell, at least for now.

On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Philip Federico denied a motion by Bollea's attorneys asking that the 17-year-old either be placed on house arrest until his 18th birthday or allowed to serve his sentence in minimum security.

Bollea is now in his fourth week of an eight-month sentence after pleading no contest to charges of reckless driving with serious bodily injury. He is housed by himself in an 8½-by-16½-foot cell where he sits 16 hours a day with minimal human contact.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said there is no alternative. As a juvenile, Bollea cannot be housed in the adult population, even though he was sentenced as an adult. Unfortunately for Bollea, who turns 18 on July 27, he is the only sentenced juvenile among the 3,500 jail inmates.

The son of wrestler Hulk Hogan said this solitary confinement has exacted an emotional and physical toll — a punishment his lawyers say is cruel and unusual.

"We're disappointed, but we're not going to cease our efforts to have undone that which we believe was absolutely in violation of the law," attorney Morris "Sandy" Weinberg said Tuesday. He predicted another filing in a day or two to ask for judicial review of Bollea's treatment.

Bollea's attorneys also have filed a lawsuit asking a judge to rule that the recorded telephone conversations of jail inmates — and especially of minors — are not public record.

Roughly 26 hours of Bollea's calls were released to the media pursuant to public records requests, and the Sheriff's Office plans to release more tapes as they come along.

In one, Bollea can be heard calling John Graziano, the victim in the Aug. 26 car crash, a "negative person." Bollea also sounds on the verge of tears in some calls.

"It's so much worse than you could ever imagine," he told his mother, comparing the jail with state prison. "It wouldn't even be that bad if I could see other people, but I'm in the ... suicide ward."

His mother urged him not to cry.

Weinberg's lawsuit contends the broadcasting of the tapes by local and national media outlets hurts Bollea's ability to defend himself in a civil lawsuit filed by a representative of Graziano.

Even as Bollea's advocates tried to shield his privacy, the Sheriff's Office released more information about him Tuesday.

His daily schedule, for example, consists of breakfast at 3:30 a.m. followed by work in the inmate property section of the jail from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. Three days a week, he has video visitation for an hour. Dinner is served at roughly 4 p.m.

He is allowed lawyers' visits, books and magazines from the library and access to a telephone, which is where the flashpoint emerged between his lawyers and the Sheriff's Office.

In the Hillsborough County jails, phone conversations are recorded but are not considered public records, said Col. David Parrish, who oversees the facility.

"They do not meet the criteria of a public record because they are not generated as part of our doing our business," Parrish said. "It's something that an inmate does with family or friends."

In Pasco, Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll said the calls are recorded, as well, but no media outlets have asked to hear them. If the Sheriff's Office received a request, it "probably would" grant it, he said.

Signs at the jail and spoken warnings during the calls say the conversations are being recorded.

"We have to remember we have a broad public records law for a reason," said Adria Harper, director of Florida's First Amendment Foundation, who believes there is no relevant exemption to keep them private. "That's one of the unfortunate things about being an inmate. You do lose your expectation of privacy."

And even if the calls were somehow suppressed, they could easily be subpoenaed by the Graziano's attorneys, who have filed a civil suit against the Bollea family.

"They're not saying those tapes are not true. They're not saying those tapes do not accurately reflect their client," said George Tragos, one of the attorneys suing the Bolleas. "They don't want the public to know to know the true Bollea (family)."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or

(727) 445-4157.

Judge denies Bollea's request for move from solitary cell 06/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 5, 2008 4:01pm]
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