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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


Twitter: @annamphillips

  1. For gay couples in Florida, an easier path to adoption


    Five years ago, when Vicky Fales and Heidi Quintana took their son home from the hospital, they entered into a state of worry beyond what most new parents experience. ¶ The Dunedin couple immediately grasped how vulnerable their family was in Florida where, at the time, gay men and lesbians couldn't legally marry or adopt children. The bans meant that Quintana — whom Aidan came to call ''mama'' — would have no parental rights if anything happened to Fales, his sole biological and legal parent. ¶ The couple had documents drawn up outlining Fales' wish that Quintana raise their son if she died, but they knew that might not hold up in court if Fales' relatives objected. ¶ "There was always that fear that this life that you bring into the world and that you help to nurture could potentially be taken away," Quintana, 43, said. "I tried not to worry, but of course it was always there.'' ¶ "There are members of my family I don't really speak to for personal reasons,'' Fales, 43, said. "That they could have more rights to Aidan than she would was really tough.'' ¶ For same-sex couples, protecting themselves and their children from worst-case legal scenarios has been a long-standing concern. ¶ Although gay individuals won the right to adopt children in 2010 when a judge struck down Florida's ban, same-sex couples still couldn't adopt jointly. The only way to give gay couples the same parental rights as straight couples was a cumbersome, costly legal procedure that experts say often depended on finding sympathetic judges. But as family law in Florida shifts to recognize legal gay marriage, adoption is about to become significantly easier....

    Kelly Essary, left, and Nila Allen play with their 2-year-old daughter Kyla Allen-Essary at their home in St. Pete Beach. They had to go through numerous legal hoops to ensure Allen got full parental rights with Kyla.
  2. Hillsborough judge arrested for domestic violence ordered to have no contact with family


    TAMPA — A judge has ordered Hillsborough County Judge Eric Myers to stay away from his wife and daughter temporarily, after he was arrested Saturday morning on a domestic violence charge.

    The order came at the request of Myers' wife, Shirley Sanchez-Myers, 40, who petitioned the court for protection over the weekend. In her petition, she accused her husband of five years of beating her to the point of unconsciousness and leaving her in their shared home in Odessa with their 5-year-old daughter....

    Hillsborough Judge Eric Myers was arrested early Saturday after an altercation with his wife.
  3. Pharmacist's wife found lying in her own blood died accidentally, defense says


    TAMPA — Found lying on her bed in a pool of her own blood in 2010, Juliet Ademoye's death held little mystery for investigators.

    Their main suspect was the only other person home the night she was killed: her husband, Olufemi Ademoye, 56, whom deputies promptly arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Their search for a murder weapon didn't take long. Under a box of toys, they found a baseball bat with traces of her blood....

    Olufemi Ademoye is accused of beating his wife to death. 
  4. Gay couples travel from neighboring counties, states to wed in Pensacola


    PENSACOLA — From Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi, gay couples traveled to this quaint Panhandle city on Tuesday, eager to take part in a historic moment: the arrival of same-sex marriage in the Deep South.

    "We came because it felt like home," said Virginia Jeffries, 30, of Foley, Ala. "And because if we waited for Alabama, we'd be waiting forever."

    Jeffries and her wife, Marrekia, 28, were married on Tuesday morning in the M.C. Blanchard Judicial Building in downtown Pensacola, where same-sex couples lined up outside an hour before doors opened. They came from neighboring states untouched by the marriage equality movement and from less-welcoming territory next door — Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties —where clerks of court have chosen to stop holding courthouse weddings rather than perform them for gay couples....

    Pastor Patrick Rogers performs the wedding ceremony for Bryan and Levette Prescott on Tuesday, the first day that gay couples could be married across Florida.
  5. Tampa Bay area gay couples prepare to tie the knot on Tuesday


    ST. PETERSBURG — The first time Nicole May and Amanda Ryan tried to plan their commitment ceremony it was a complete disaster.

    It was 2010, two years after Floridians had approved a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman, and every Pinellas beach hotel they called kept hanging up on them. "We don't want your money," one hotel employee told them.

    Calling caterers and florists seemed like a waste of time. If no one would host their ceremony, who would sell them flowers?...

    St. Petersburg residents Nicole May, 26, left, and Amanda Ryan, 24, encountered difficulties in 2010 when they first tried to hold a commitment ceremony. On Tuesday, they’ll wed.
  6. As gay marriage approaches, several counties' clerks opt out of wedding ceremonies


    As gay marriage comes to Florida, Pasco County's clerk of court is among a growing number of clerks who are refusing to hold courthouse marriage ceremonies.

    Rather than extend the practice to gay couples, they are ending it entirely.

    From as far west as Santa Rosa County to as far east as Duval County, much of North Florida is opting out. But in the Tampa Bay area, home to the largest gay pride celebration in the southeastern United States, only the Pasco clerk has chosen that route....

    William Lee Jones, left, and Aaron Huntsman, center, receive marriage license application paperwork Friday at the Monroe County Courthouse in Key West. At right is Amy Heavilin, Monroe's clerk of the court. Jones and Huntsman are planning on receiving their license just after midnight Monday, and getting married immediately afterwards. [AP photo]
  7. Judge Hinkle says all 67 counties may issue marriage licenses to gay couples


    Clerks of court across Florida should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples next week, a federal judge ordered on New Year's Day, warning recalcitrant officials they could face legal consequences if they refuse.

    The decision, by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of Tallahassee, ends weeks of speculation and legal maneuvering as clerks throughout the state waited to hear whether gay marriage would become legal statewide, or restricted to Washington County in the Panhandle. ...

    Kimmy Denny and her partner Barb Lawrence of Palm Harbor wait outside a court hearing on gay marriage in Miami on July 2. On Thursday, clerks of court across Florida got the word that they may issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting next week.
  8. Judge orders Orlando clerk to issue marriage licenses to gay couples on Jan. 6


    With a state judge's blessing, Orange County's clerk of courts said Wednesday that she will issue marriage licenses to gay couples next week.

    But the atmosphere will not be as welcoming in parts of North Florida, where clerks in Duval, Baker and Clay counties have decided to stop holding any courthouse weddings rather than marry same-sex couples.

    As a Jan. 6 deadline approaches, whether gay marriage will become legal statewide, or only in one Panhandle county, remains an open question for U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to answer. By the close of business on Wednesday, Hinkle had not issued a new opinion, dashing anxious clerks' hopes that he would bring clarity to the issue before ringing in the new year....

    U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling on Florida’s same-sex marriage ban has led to confusion.
  9. Florida Family Action sues Orlando, Osceola officials over plans to marry gay couples


    As Floridians wait for a federal judge to decide whether gay marriage will become the law statewide, or legal in one Panhandle county only, groups on both sides are readying themselves for more court battles.

    On Tuesday, a conservative group sued Orlando's mayor, the Osceola County clerk of court and a circuit court judge in a last-ditch effort to prevent them from marrying gay couples next week. Florida Family Action asked a judge to block the three officials from going through with their publicly stated plans to either issue marriage licenses to gay couples or officiate at same-sex weddings....

  10. Those in need across Tampa Bay get Christmas meal

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — The city streets were quiet on Christmas Day, except for a block of Palm Avenue, where under a large white tent, several hundred of Tampa's poorest residents enjoyed plates of ham and sweet potatoes.

    Above them, a televised yule log crackled. Men talked of switching it to sports.

    The Christmas meal came courtesy of Metropolitan Ministries and dozens of volunteers, some of whom arrived as early as 5 a.m. to sort gifts and begin preparing food. Organizers estimated this year's charitable effort — by now, a familiar tradition — would feed 2,400 people in Pasco, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties. ...

    Jo’mya Polnitz, 3, patiently waits for her roll to be pulled apart as she eats with family and friends at the Metropolitan Ministries food tent on Christmas Day in Tampa.
  11. Law firm tells clerks gay marriage order affects just one Florida county


    The fight to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal in Florida received a boost Tuesday from one of the state's most prominent law firms, which advised court clerks they could face misdemeanor charges if they issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

    Greenberg Traurig, the law firm for the association representing Florida's 67 court clerks, warned that a federal judge's ruling overturning the state ban on gay marriage only applies to one Panhandle county, Washington County, the only place named in the lawsuit. According to the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, clerks in all other counties are not bound by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle's ruling in August that the gay marriage ban is unconstitutional....

    Howard Simon, the executive director of the Florida ACLU, says the ruling covers the state.
  12. Florida asks highest court to block gay marriage


    Less than two weeks after a federal court refused to temporarily block gay marriages from taking place, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intercede.

    The move comes as state officials appeal a ruling that overturned Florida's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, positioning Florida to become the 36th state to allow gay couples to marry.

    A subsequent decision from a federal appeals court opened the possibility for gay couples to exchange vows as soon as Jan. 6, and some county clerks of court have said they are ready to begin issuing marriage licenses. But state officials said the decision, handed down by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, could lead to chaos....

    Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is responsible for overseeing federal courts in Florida.  [Getty Images 2010]
  13. Florida gay couples make plans to marry — but when?

    Human Interest

    For the past several years, Cynthia Havel-Bloomquist and her partner, Lola, watched as gay couples they knew traveled to other states to get married. They were the hometown stalwarts, the ones who wanted to wait for Florida.

    So when the news popped up on Facebook that gay marriage might soon be legal in Florida, the couple, together for 12 years, acted quickly. They called wedding venues, got approval to take time off work and found a Unitarian minister willing to marry them on the steps of the Bay County Courthouse the first day it's legal....

    Aaron Huntsman, left, and William Lee Jones, shown in July, were the first in Florida to win a state case challenging the ban and are hoping to be first in line to get married.
  14. Public defender resigns after removal from case involving mentally disabled woman


    TAMPA — The public defender who was removed from the case of a mentally disabled woman sentenced to prison for trying to smother her infant son resigned Friday.

    If he hadn't, he would have been fired, said Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt.

    J. Kenneth Littman's handling of Violet Hinrichs' case — in particular, his decision not to question her competency to stand trial despite having an IQ of 60 — is not the first time his work has prompted concern, Holt said. For the past few years, she said, he has been on a performance improvement plan....

    Violet Hinrichs did not receive a full competency evaluation.
  15. Low IQ inmate Violet Hinrichs withdraws guilty plea amid questions about competency


    TAMPA — A mentally disabled young woman from Pasco County who pleaded guilty to attempting to smother her baby withdrew her plea Monday, the first step in what Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt promised will be a "fresh look" at the case.

    Violet Hinrichs' case was closed, the question of her guilt answered. All that remained was her transfer from a Hillsborough jail to a state prison for five years, the sentence she accepted Nov. 19 in a plea bargain....

    On Nov. 19, Violet Hinrichs, 20, pleaded guilty to five counts of child abuse, accepting a five-year prison sentence. On Monday, she withdrew that guilty plea.