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A Times Editorial

It's legal, but it fails smell test

How does one make $269,184 annually at a public sector job that pays only $145,080? By gaming the system, that's how. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Anthony Rondolino draws a generous retirement benefit of more than $10,000 per month, yet he still draws a full salary from the same job he retired from. Rondolino says the double-dipping is perfectly legal. Maybe so, but by not disclosing his "retirement" plans before his re-election last fall, Rondolino didn't give his boss — the voters — a chance to weigh in.

No one ran against Rondolino, 59, last year as he sought re-election, as is often the case with incumbent judges. He was automatically re-elected. He then resigned his judicial seat less than a month after the November election and sat out the month of December to qualify to receive his state pension. He began his new term in January.

Words come to mind to describe this maneuver, such as calculated, cunning, even unscrupulous. But definitely not judicial.

Rondolino says he earned the pension benefits over more than three decades as a judge and assistant public defender. Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Robert Morris backs him up, saying that the public is paying no more than if Rondolino had actually retired, since another judge would receive the $145,080 salary.

But one has to wonder if voters would have seen it that way. Had Rondolino announced his retirement plans before seeking re-election, he very likely would have drawn an opponent or two. That would have given voters a fair chance to weigh in on his intended double-dipping.

Rondolino is not the only judge in Florida to arrange things so sweetly for himself. A survey by the St. Petersburg Times last year found 25 double-dipping judges statewide, though some have since left the bench. This disgraceful practice puts self-enrichment before the public trust and violates the spirit of judicial ethics.

Legislation that would ban double-dipping by state workers and elected officials (SB 1182) has been introduced in the Legislature, but it wouldn't apply retroactively to people like Rondolino.

Too bad a jurist with a fine record of service will end his career under such a cloud. If Rondolino does stand for re-election in six years, at least the public will know the deal this time.

It's legal, but it fails smell test 04/06/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 6, 2009 1:17pm]
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