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Anna M. Phillips, Times Staff Writer

Anna M. Phillips

Anna M. Phillips writes about legal affairs and criminal justice in Tampa and Hillsborough County. Before joining the Times in 2012, she covered the New York City public schools for the New York Times and for the education news website Chalkbeat New York (formerly GothamSchools).

Phone: (813) 226-3354

Email: aphillips@tampabay.com

Twitter: @annamphillips

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  1. Florida Supreme Court opens the door for new hearings for juvenile killers

    Blog

    The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that juvenile killers serving lengthy sentences tantamount to life in prison must have their cases reconsidered by a judge, even if they are eligible for parole.

    The opinion could dramatically expand the number of juvenile offenders who must be resentenced, granting a second chance for release to potentially hundreds of people who committed murder in their youth. It's unclear how broadly the decision would be applied to juveniles serving similar sentences...

  2. Florida Supreme Court opens the door for new hearings for juvenile offenders

    State Roundup

    The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that juvenile offenders serving sentences so lengthy they amount to life in prison must have their cases reconsidered by a judge, even if they are eligible for parole.

    The 4-3 ruling will dramatically expand the number of juvenile offenders who qualify for resentencing, granting a second chance for release to potentially hundreds of people convicted of murder and other serious crimes in their youth. It relies on a series of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions requiring new sentencing for youths automatically banished to prison for life by laws that did not factor in the defendant's age and immaturity....

    The ruling concerns the case of Angelo Atwell.
  3. Judge denies Gawker a new trial, refuses to reduce $140M verdict

    Civil

    ST. PETERSBURG — A Pinellas County judge on Wednesday denied Gawker Media's motion for a new trial and upheld the staggering $140 million in damages a jury awarded to former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan earlier this year.

    The decision from Circuit Judge Pamela A.M. Campbell is the first step in what will likely be a lengthy appeals process. From the beginning of the trial, Gawker's attorneys said they anticipated having to seek relief from an appellate court that has the power to reverse or reduce the jury's award....

    Hulk Hogan, aka Terry Bollea, center, huddles with his legal team in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. A Pinellas County judge has denied Gawker Media's motion for a new trial and upheld the staggering $140 million in damages a jury awarded Bollea earlier this year. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  4. Court documents: FSU student accused of murdering parents had difficult relationship with mother (w/video)

    Crime

    TAMPA — The young woman on the other side of the glass smiled. Her anxiety was gone, she told her brother. She was eating well and sleeping soundly.

    "I know this is weird. I just feel so much better," she said.

    There was no mistaking the relief in Nicole G. Nachtman's voice, although given her circumstances, weird wasn't the word for it. The 22-year-old former Florida State University student was sitting in a Hillsborough County jail, accused of shooting and killing her mother and stepfather. If convicted, she could face the death penalty....

    Nicole G. Nachtman was moved to the Hillsborough County jail in August to face first-degree murder charges in the deaths of her mother and stepfather.
  5. Tampa man's family sues police over fatal pot raid

    Civil

    TAMPA — The mother of a man who was shot and killed by Tampa police officers during a raid on his home in 2014 has sued the city, its former police chief and the officers involved over her son's death.

    The lawsuit, filed late last week in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, accuses the police of negligence for acting on the word of a confidential informant with a history of heavy drug use and criminal activity. It also says that officers used excessive force against 29-year-old Jason Westcott, who was killed, and his boyfriend Israel "Izzy" Reyes, who was 22 and is a plaintiff in the lawsuit....

    The mother of 29-year-old Jason Westcott, who was shot and killed by Tampa police officers during a raid on his home in 2014 has sued the city, its former police chief, and the officers involved, over her son's death. [Photo courtesy of Westcott family]
  6. Deal for Hillsborough sex offender falls apart under pressure from victim's family

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Whether it was intuition or luck, something led Nikki Summers to type the name Elizabeth Wirick into the Florida Department of Corrections website on Sunday night.

    Within seconds, she learned that the woman who had sexually abused her adopted daughter was due back in court. And within 24 hours, she, her husband, and much of their family were on the road from Macon, Ga., to Tampa, intent on blocking a deal they had only just learned about that would have shaved five years from Wirick's 30-year sentence....

    Nikki Summers, left, and Jayson Barnes, the underage victim’s parents, traveled from Macon, Ga., to Tampa to fight the deal.
  7. Hillsborough state attorney candidate proposes more public meetings

    Blog

    TAMPA — Hillsborough state attorney candidate Andrew Warren, who is running against incumbent State Attorney Mark Ober, issued a press release Tuesday morning outlining several proposals to make the county's top prosecutor more visible.

    "The job of the State Attorney requires not just managing the office of prosecutors but also engaging with the community to prevent and reduce crime," he said in a written statement. "This is a simple step to improve relations between the office and the community."...

    Andrew Warren, 39, is the first candidate to challenge Ober in a general election since 2000.
  8. Florida will list both names of same-sex couples on birth certificates

    Health

    More than a year after gay couples won the right to marry in Florida, the state's Department of Health is allowing both spouses to have their names printed on their baby's birth certificate.

    The change comes after three same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit against the state last year over its practice of treating married gay couples differently by listing only one parent on birth certificates. In their suit, the couples said the policy violated their constitutional right to equal protection....

  9. Ex-Tampa police employee sentenced to prison for tax refund scheme

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A federal judge on Monday sentenced a former employee of the Tampa Police Department to two years in prison for her role in a yearslong tax fraud scheme that involved her stealing protected information from law enforcement databases.

    According to federal prosecutors, Tonia Bright, 53, a civilian community service officer, used her access to databases such as the FBI's National Crime Information Center index to extract names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers that she passed along to a friend, who plugged them into fraudulent tax returns....

  10. Plant City man sentenced to life in prison for 2011 double homicide

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Nearly four years after he was charged with a double murder in Plant City, Rubin J. Brooks Jr. was sentenced Friday to spend the rest of his life in prison.

    It was a far more lenient sentence than prosecutors had hoped to win.

    Brooks, 51, was already in jail on an unrelated charge when he was accused in August 2012 of the murders of Shannon "Fonko" Thomas, 33 and Faye Kitchen, 59. According to prosecutors, the pair were family friends who were found murdered in Kitchen's home on E. Ohio Street in November 2011....

    Rubin J. Brooks Jr., 51, was sentenced on Friday to spend the rest of his life in prison for a 2011 double homicide in Plant City. [Photo courtesy of Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  11. L. David Shear, lawyer who paved the way for Bay Area Legal Services, dies at 79

    Courts

    TAMPA — L. David Shear, one of the founders of Bay Area Legal Services, the Tampa Bay area's legal aid organization for the poor, died Tuesday morning. He was 79.

    The cause was ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, according to his son Jeffrey Shear.

    Throughout his career as a lawyer specializing in corporate and real estate law, Mr. Shear devoted countless volunteer hours to Bay Area Legal Services, an organization he helped found along with several other members of the Hillsborough Bar Association. He became known for championing the interests of children, ultimately lending his name to a center that provides free legal representation for children in Hillsborough County's foster care system....

    L. David Shear, one of the founders of Bay Area Legal Services, died at age 79. [Photo courtesy of the Shear family]
  12. Wave of bathroom bills has Florida's transgender community worried it's next

    Blog

    ST. PETERSBURG - On a recent trip to the hair salon, Shannon McGuire had more than style on her mind.

    She had been wearing her hair in an angled bob, a style her hairdresser pronounced "tired," and suggested she replace with a pixie cut.

    "At that moment, going through my head was: If I get my hair cut that short, the number of people who call me a guy is going to triple immediately," McGuire, 33, said as she leaned into a circle of transgender women like herself....

  13. Wave of bathroom bills has Florida's transgender community worried it's next

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — On a recent trip to the hair salon, Shannon McGuire had more than style on her mind.

    She had been wearing her hair in an angled bob, a style her hairdresser pronounced "tired," and suggested she replace with a pixie cut.

    "At that moment, going through my head was: If I get my hair cut that short, the number of people who call me a guy is going to triple immediately," McGuire, 33, said as she leaned into a circle of transgender women like herself....

    Nate Quinn, 17 and a transgender student, initially was barred from using the men's bathroom at Pine View School. The school later changed its policy. [Thomas Bender | Herald-Tribune]
  14. Election opponent Andrew Warren accuses Hillsborough state attorney Mark Ober of not showing up for work

    Courts

    TAMPA — Hillsborough state attorney candidate Andrew Warren is calling out his opponent, incumbent Mark Ober, for his work ethic. Or, as Warren suggests, the lack thereof.

    A former federal fraud prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice and the first Democrat to challenge the Republican Ober in years, Warren said he made a public records request to find out more about the state attorney's comings and goings. What he got back is roughly a month's worth of Ober's key card data — the log created when Ober uses his security badge inside the state attorney's building. ...

    Andrew Warren is Mark Ober’s first challenger for state attorney since 2008.
  15. Mother of sexual abuse victim sues Tampa Day School, former principal

    Civil

    TAMPA — A year after former Tampa Day School principal James Larkin was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexually abusing two teenage boys, the school is facing allegations of negligence from a student's mother.

    In a lawsuit filed late Tuesday in Hillsborough County's civil court, the mother of a Tampa Day School student who was molested in 2014 says the school's leaders failed to act on multiple warning signs indicating that Larkin's relationship with her then-14 year old son was not normal. The lawsuit claims that Larkin's favoritism toward the teenager was "open and obvious" to Tampa Day School teachers and head of school Lois Delaney....

    James Jerome Larkin, former Tampa Day School principal, was arrested in 2014 and charged with lewd or lascivious molestation on a child 12 years or older. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |  Times]