Make us your home page

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

  1. 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....

    Pat Frank
  2. 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....

    Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent gay marriages from taking place while the state continues its fight to protect its constitutional ban against gay marriage, which was passed by voters in 2008.
  3. 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....

    Attorney General Pam Bondi has gone to court defending Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage.
  4. 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.
  5. 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....

    In court Monday morning, Violet Hinrichs, who earlier had pleaded guilty to child abuse charges, withdrew her guilty plea, the first step in what could be a complete re-examination of her case. [SKIP O'ROURKE  | Times]

  6. Pasco mother's guilty plea to child abuse reopened amid competency questions


    TAMPA — On Nov. 19, Violet Hinrichs shuffled into a Tampa courtroom, raised her right hand and pleaded guilty to charges that would put her in prison for five years.

    She was a week shy of her 20th birthday and as she stood before the judge, her oversized jail-issued jacket hung from her 5-foot-2 frame. Did she understand the consequences of pleading guilty? the judge asked. "Yes sir," she said softly, giving the answer she is accustomed to giving. Tears rolled down her cheeks....

    Violet Hinrichs, sentenced to 5 years, has an IQ of 60.
  7. Trial in Pasco County movie theater killing gets postponed


    DADE CITY — The murder trial of Curtis Reeves, a retired Tampa police captain accused of shooting a man after an argument over texting at a Pasco County movie theater, was postponed on Wednesday after a judge found both sides unready to proceed.

    The case involves some 100 witnesses, including Reeves, whose attorney has said he will testify in his own defense. But only a third of those witnesses have been formally questioned and the process of interviewing the remainder, as well as assembling experts for trial, will likely take months, defense attorneys said....

  8. Young Pasco mother sentenced to five years in prison for child abuse


    TAMPA — A 19-year-old Pasco County woman who was accused of trying to kill her infant son by strangling him pleaded guilty to child abuse charges on Wednesday and was sentenced to five years in prison.

    In April, acting on concern that her 7-month-old son was having seizures, Violet Hinrichs brought him to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where a video camera captured footage that surprised Hinrichs' family and law enforcement. Five times, the camera showed Hinrichs holding her son so tightly that his skin began to turn blue and his heart rate and brain waves slowed, triggering alarms. When doctors found bruises on the infant's neck, police arrested Hinrichs and accused her of choking her son....

  9. Tampa lawyers can be questioned about DUI setup claims


    CLEARWATER — Three Tampa lawyers accused of setting up a DUI sting to ensnare a rival will have to submit to questioning, a judge ordered on Monday.

    But that does not mean the lawyers from the firm of Adams & Diaco will offer any answers.

    Accused in January 2013 of engineering the arrest of an opposing lawyer during a high-profile trial, Robert Adams, Stephen Diaco and Adam Filthaut have so far refused to answer questions about the allegations against them. All three face charges from the Florida Bar of misconduct, unfairness to opposing counsel and disrupting court....

  10. Hillsborough cases delayed over evidence sharing dispute


    TAMPA — Caught in a 2012 drug sting along with 21 others, Juan Londono has been waiting since then for his case to go to trial.

    But that's unlikely to happen anytime soon. Despite a judge's order, prosecutors have resisted answering questions about the only witnesses in the case — the confidential informers who allegedly bought heroin from Londono. And although the state revealed one informer's name, it hasn't divulged anything about the men's history of working with law enforcement or confirmed a defense attorney's suspicion that one of them died three years ago....

  11. Pasco report raises questions about texting in Reeves case


    In the hours after they saw a man shot and killed in a movie theater in Pasco, multiple witnesses told investigators how the fight began.

    Though their accounts varied slightly, many of them said they heard an older man confront another moviegoer who was sending text messages during the previews. The younger man, Chad Oulson, exclaimed loudly that he was texting his daughter. Minutes later, Curtis Reeves, a retired Tampa police captain, shot Oulson dead....

    A new Pasco Sheriff's Office report concludes that data from Chad Oulson's iPhone offers no evidence he was communicating with anyone about his 2-year-old daughter while he sat in previews before a matinee of Lone Survivor at the Grove 16 theater in Wesley Chapel. [Facebook]
  12. Edward Covington is psychopath but not mentally ill, doctor testifies


    TAMPA — Edward Covington, the Lutz man who murdered his girlfriend and her two children on Mother's Day 2008, is not mentally ill, a doctor hired by the state testified on Friday. He's a psychopath.

    Retained by prosecutors to review Covington's lengthy medical history, psychiatrist Dr. Wade Myers said that although previous doctors had repeatedly diagnosed the defendant with bipolar disorder, that was incorrect....

    Edward Covington has previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
  13. Mental state now focus in Covington murder case


    TAMPA — The day before he murdered and mutilated the corpses of his girlfriend and her two young children, Edward Covington assured his mother he would never harm the woman he loved.

    "I couldn't hurt her, I love her," he told his mother. Then he leaned over and kissed Lisa Freiberg, the woman he lived with and whose life he would take in the next 24 hours.

    On the witness stand Thursday, Ann Covington recalled how her son's behavior that Saturday in May 2008 struck her as odd. Diagnosed at age 15 with bipolar disorder, he lived in constant turmoil, swinging between periods of high energy and deep depression. He was repeatedly hospitalized, tried to commit suicide multiple times, and was prescribed a regimen of psychotropic drugs, including lithium....

    Covington began treatment at 15 for bipolar disorder. 
  14. Sami Osmakac gets 40 years in prison for plotting terrorist attacks in Tampa


    TAMPA — Sami Osmakac, the Kosovo-born man who threatened to stage a series of terrorist attacks in Tampa, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in prison.

    Convicted in June of possessing an unregistered AK-47 and attempting to use weapons of mass destruction — a reference to the car bomb, six grenades and suicide vest he planned to use — Osmakac faced the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. But federal prosecutors did not aim for the harshest sentence. Rather, they asked for and received from Judge Mary S. Scriven a lengthy prison term, followed by a lifetime of probation. Under this sentence, Osmakac, a 27-year-old Pinellas Park resident, will not emerge from a prison cell until he's in his 60s....

  15. Barbara Twine Thomas, Richard Bauman within reach of circuit bench


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County voters appeared poised Tuesday night to send Barbara Twine Thomas and Robert Bauman to circuit court judgeships.

    Twine, 62, who raised just over $98,000 for her campaign, roughly half of which came from personal loans, won the most votes in the August primary to replace retiring Circuit Judge James D. Arnold in Group 8.

    On Tuesday, with most of the vote counted she held a slim lead over Carl C. Hinson, 54, despite his significant fundraising lead. Hinson, who has a solo practice primarily focused on personal injury law, raised $259,000 for his campaign, including $50,000 of his own money....