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Former Pasco sheriff wants new libel trial against the Times

Former Pasco Sheriff John M. Short and former Deputy John T. Moorman asked an appeal court Tuesday to grant them a new libel trial against the St. Petersburg Times.

Arguing on behalf of the two former law officers, attorney Bennie Lazzara told a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal that the trial was unfair because the Times was allowed to do "a lot of mudslinging" at Short and Moorman by bringing in what he said were irrelevant side issues.

Those included testimony about a state police corruption investigation of the Pasco Sheriff's Office, an allegation of destruction of documents by the Sheriff's Office, deputies lying on their applications, allegations that Short and Moorman were womanizers, and testimony that a listening device had been placed in a Times office.

Allowing the verdict to stand will discourage people from filing such lawsuits for fear their reputations will be destroyed in the process, Lazzara said. "They end up dragging out any allegation that's come out in your life and parading it before the jury."

Attorney Patricia Anderson responded for the Times that it was Short, by his testimony that reporter Lucy Morgan was out to get him, that forced the Times to respond with evidence that the newspaper simply was covering ongoing problems at the Sheriff's Office.

After 18 days of trial last year, a jury decided the Times did not libel Short and Moorman in a series of articles published in 1983. The jury never considered the newspaper's counterclaim, which alleged abuse of process. The Times contends Short and Moorman filed their lawsuit to influence Short's 1988 bid for re-election, but the trial judge dismissed that counterclaim.

Tuesday, Anderson asked the same appeal court panel to reinstate that counterclaim.

The judges, as is their custom, did not issue an immediate ruling.

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