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Laura C. Morel, Times Staff Writer

Laura C. Morel

Laura covers law enforcement and courts in Pinellas County. She joined the Tampa Bay Times in May 2012.

Born and raised in Miami, she speaks Spanish and holds degrees from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston.

Phone: (727) 893-8232

Email: lmorel@tampabay.com

Twitter: @LauraCMorel

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  1. Florida Bar warns lawyers of fraudulent email claiming to come from Attorney General’s office

    Blog

    Across Florida this week, many lawyers received an email with the subject line: “The Florida Office of The Attorney General Complaint.”

    “Enclosed is a copy of the complaint which requires your response,” it read.

    But the Florida Bar warned lawyers Thursday that the email did not come from Pam Bondi’s office. And the attachment is actually a virus, possibly Ransomware, that blocks access to a computer until a ransom is paid....

  2. Clerk complaint raises questions about Pinellas judicial candidate's demeanor in court

    Courts

    For 11 years, Pinellas County judge candidate Curtis Korsko had an unblemished track record as a traffic hearing officer — until last year in May, when a clerk sent a scathing email to court officials.

    "He has taken polls of the people in the audience as to whether they agree with his ruling on a case," it read. "He really makes the court system look bad."

    Then-chief judge J. Thomas McGrady assigned a court counsel attorney to investigate....

    Curtis Korsko is a Tampa civil litigation lawyer and a judicial candidate.
  3. Court interpreters stay busy as more immigrants move to Tampa Bay

    Courts

    The words flashed across Lourdes Licata's email inbox: INTERPRETER NEEDED.

    Minutes later she was in front of a computer screen in her Largo office, looking at a courtroom in New Port Richey. There, standing before the judge was a woman arrested for petty theft. She only spoke Spanish.

    Licata, via video conference, rapidly interpreted the judge's every word.

    That sense of urgency is well known to court interpreters across Tampa Bay....

    Interpreters Lourdes Licata, left, and Astrid Schaffer get their headphones ready as they prepare to interpret for defendant Monica Ossa, center, whose trial was about to begin.
  4. Clerk complaint raises questions about Pinellas judicial candidate's demeanor in court

    Blog

    For 11 years, Pinellas County judge candidate Curtis Korsko had an unblemished track record as a traffic hearing officer — until last year in May, when a clerk sent a scathing e-mail to court officials.

    “He has taken polls of the people in the audience as to whether they agree with his ruling on a case,” it read. “He really makes the court system look bad.”

    Then-chief judge J. Thomas McGrady assigned a court counsel attorney to investigate....

    Curtis Korsko, Pinellas County judge candidate
  5. Family of motorcyclist paralyzed by crash with deputy to receive $16 million settlement

    Public Safety

    The family of a 21-year-old man who was paralyzed in January when an undercover detective crashed into his motorcycle will receive a $16 million settlement from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

    "I took the position from day one that we had 100 percent liability and that we needed to accept responsibility for this," Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Wednesday. "This is the only way we have to make it as right as it could possibly be."...

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said of the settlement, “This is the only way we have to make it as right as it could possibly be.”
  6. Man charged in slaying of Tarpon Springs doctor blames victim's wife in TV interview (w/video)

    Criminal

    Anton Stragaj strolled toward the cameras and the spotlights dressed in orange coveralls.

    The Pinellas County Jail inmate sat down and placed his hands on his lap. His knees bounced every so often. Deputies stood around as a microphone was clipped to his collar.

    And then Stragaj, 39, told the CBS News TV show 48 Hours that he did not kill the man whose death he now sits in a cell for, awaiting trial....

    A forensic investigator with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, right, takes equipment to the scene of a homicide investigation in Tarpon Springs in 2014. Dr. Steven Patlin Schwartz, 74, was found shot and stabbed inside his mansion. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  7. In third trial, Leo Berube again found guilty of killing woman 13 years ago

    Criminal

    LARGO — Calling Ed Griffith to tell him his wife's murderer would be put on trial for a third time was one of the toughest calls Frank Piazza says he's had to make as a prosecutor.

    In the past decade, appellate courts have twice overturned Leo Richard Berube's conviction for strangling Ann Griffith with a lamp cord....

    Defendant Leo Berube waits for jury selection in his second-degree murder trial on Monday. Berube is accused of strangling a woman with a lamp cord in 2003. If convicted, he faces a sentence of life in prison. The prosecution and defense delivered their closing statements on Friday. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  8. New witness emerges in Leo Richard Berube's murder trial

    Criminal

    Ed Griffith and Duane White shared a cell at the Pinellas County jail in 2003. Griffith was charged with strangling his wife.

    One day, after playing a board game, Griffith opened up about his case, White told a jury Thursday. The conversation led White to think that Griffith was the killer.

    "You can't really say you become best friends in a situation like that," White said. "But you become acquainted and a lot of people talk about their cases."...

    Left to Right:  Defense attorney Richard Watts talks in court with his client, defendant Leo Berube before jury selection  began Monday, 6/27/16, at the Pinellas County Criminal Courts Complex, Largo. This will be the third trial for Berube for the same crime. He is charged with strangling a woman with a lamp cord in 2003.
  9. Police blotter: Man evicted from mobile home contaminates pool, deputies say

    Crime

    LARGO

    Man pollutes pool after eviction, deputies say

    On June 23, Thomas Mason walked into the Embassy Mobile Home Park at 16416 U.S. 19 N with a 5-gallon bucket, an arrest report says.

    Mason, 54, is accused of pouring the contents of the container, described as an "unknown dark-colored substance," into the pool.

    "Thomas is angry over his eviction from the park and is suspect in several criminal mischief events in the last week there," a deputy wrote in a report....

  10. Third trial under way for St. Petersburg man accused of strangling woman

    Criminal

    LARGO — There's no question that Ann Griffith, 42, was choked so violently with a lamp cord on Jan. 4, 2003, that her neck was broken.

    But during opening statements Tuesday in the murder trial of the man accused of killing her, the prosecution and defense told very different stories about the moments leading up her to death 13 years ago.

    This is the third time Leo Richard Berube has gone to trial for the same case. An appeals court reversed the St. Petersburg man's previous convictions from 2006 and 2009. If convicted of second-degree murder, Berube, now 48, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole....

     Left to Right:  Defense attorney Richard Watts talks in court with his client, defendant Leo Berube before jury selection  began Monday, 6/27/16, at the Pinellas County Criminal Courts Complex, Largo. This will be the third trial for Berube for the same crime. He is charged with strangling a woman with a lamp cord in 2003.
  11. St. Petersburg man convicted in Realtor attacks sentenced to 20 years in prison

    Criminal

    The terror of being held at gunpoint still haunts Elaine Goller's dreams.

    More than a year ago, the St. Petersburg Realtor was showing a house to a man, later identified as Paul Pinkston, when he brandished a gun in her face and shackled her with handcuffs and zip ties. The same day, he tried to rob another real estate agent.

    The attacks unnerved the local real estate community until Pinkston's arrest days later....

    At a house showing last year, Elaine Goller was handcuffed. Her attacker then called her husband, Philip Twitchell, demanding cash.
  12. Found guilty twice of strangling a woman, St. Petersburg man will go on trial again

    Criminal

    Leo Richard Berube's attorneys say he didn't strangle Ann Griffith with a lamp cord 13 years ago.

    Two separate juries disagreed, finding Berube, a former factory worker registered as a sex predator, guilty of murder.

    After an appeals court reversed his latest conviction a second time due to a jury instruction error, Berube will be back in Pinellas court today for a third trial.

    "We think they've got the wrong guy," said his defense attorney, J. Jervis Wise, who has represented Berube since the first trial. "We're happy to have another chance to try the case again."...

    Leo Richard Berube’s two convictions in the 2003 strangling death of Ann Griffith, a 42-year-old prostitute, have been overturned. Jury selection for a third trial is set for today.
  13. Seminole man guilty of killing St. Petersburg couple in Thanksgiving 2014 crash

    Criminal

    Judy Linden says she has a "hotline to heaven."

    She doesn't know why, but every once in a while she texts her brother, Doug Simpson. He and his wife, Christina, were killed on Thanksgiving Day of 2014 when a drunken driver barreled into their Toyota on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg as they drove home from a gathering with friends.

    After a jury found the driver, Anthony Apollo Neeley, guilty on Wednesday, Linden texted Simpson: "Rest easy now, my sweet brother."...

    Anthony Apollo Neeley, 32, also guilty of vehicular homicide, is scheduled to be sentenced in August.
  14. From waiting in line to online: Tampa Bay clerk's offices push court records to the Web

    Courts

    The days of waiting in line at the courthouse for records are rapidly fading into history as clerk's offices in Tampa Bay and across the state transition to posting documents online.

    Clerk's offices in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Pasco are at different stages of pushing records to the Web after the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that documents can be released electronically, making this state the first in the country to provide online access to most court records....

  15. Trial delayed in hatchet killing after suicide attempt

    Criminal

    The trial of Arthur DeCarvalho, charged with hacking a Dunedin man to death with a hatchet in June 2014, was postponed Tuesday after he tried to harm himself at the jail hours before jury selection began.

    When Pinellas Circuit Judge Thane Covert arrived in court Tuesday morning, an assistant public defender told him DeCarvalho had attempted suicide. A bailiff later told the judge he tried to use staples to cut himself....