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Judge, lawyer lash out at media

A circuit judge named in allegations of courthouse corruption and a prominent lawyer who is not blasted the news media Tuesday for publicizing the story.

Both men said the reports were unfair because Tampa lawyer Manual A. "Manny" Machin's testimony, though under oath, was unsubstantiated hearsay that could, nonetheless, destroy reputations.

Two other lawyers called the allegations pertaining to them ridiculous but did not attack the news media for reporting them.

The circuit judge implicated in Machin's statement, Robert H. Bonanno, hotly denied his involvement and blasted the media at a brief news conference Tuesday morning.

"Since the allegations against me as contained in Mr. Machin's deposition are recitations of mere rumors, it's difficult to respond to them except to emphatically deny there is any truth whatsoever to the statements as they relate to me," Bonanno said from the bench.

Machin had recounted another lawyer's claim that he could get favorable treatment on cases from Bonanno in exchange for sexual favors provided by the lawyer's secretary.

Bonanno denied any wrongdoing in his 10 years on the bench, and said he wasn't surprised at the allegations in light of his well-documented differences with Machin.

Then he lashed out at reporters.

"I expected better restraint from the media and I expected better journalistic integrity," he said. "But I guess our expectations sometimes are not met.

"My friends and my family know the truth and I can assure you we're not going to lose one minute's sleep over these allegations," he said. "But I don't know how you ladies and gentlemen of the press can sleep if you have any journalistic integrity whatsoever, knowing that you trashed my reputation by airing these totally unsubstantiated lies.

"And I ask any member of the media that wants to call me on their own later to tell me, where do I go to get my reputation back now that you trashed it?" he said.

Bonanno refused to take questions and left the room after making his statement before the reporters and television cameras.

A few hours later, prominent lawyer Barry A. Cohen summoned reporters to his office and also took them and their bosses to task for Tuesday's reports.

"I'm sick and tired of seeing people's reputations being ruined in the public without any facts to support it," Cohen said.

He cited the American Society of Newspaper Editors' statement of principles that talk about fair play and common standards of decency, then asked whether portions of news reports repeating Machin's testimony met the spirit of those principles.

"Aren't these people entitled to some privacy? Shouldn't you wait until an arrest is made, until probable cause is achieved?" Cohen asked.

He said media managers need to focus more on the effects of news reports than on beating their competition. But his criticism didn't stop at the media. He also criticized as irresponsible the court officials _ lawyers, prosecutors and the judge _ who allowed the deposition's release.

Cohen said he does not represent anyone involved in the current federal corruption probe, or the federal criminal case against a former state prosecutor and a Tampa lawyer.

Hillsborough State Attorney Bill James said Tuesday that allegations that his office declined to prosecute a manslaughter case in exchange for campaign contributions in 1988 were "outrageous."

James also said he stands by one of his assistants, who, in Machin's story, allegedly got special consideration from a judge by tugging his tie a certain way.

Machin also recounted another lawyer's claim that he gave $50,000 to a relative of an out-of-state federal judge, to get favorable treatment for a client, attorney Frank Ragano.

"That's so comical. He's either on drugs, or he's come unhinged," Ragano said. "I'd like to know where he got $50,000. And that judge gave me three years, when we were asking for probation."

Ragano is appealing his conviction on federal tax charges.