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James, Coe say trust is an issue

The issue du jour in the Hillsborough County state attorney's race Wednesday was trust.

State Attorney Bill James and retired Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe III agreed that it is important. Predictably, they disagreed whom voters can trust more.

James ripped Coe for publishing "lies" in a campaign brochure that he says mischaracterizes Coe's background, misstates that a prosecutor was arrested for extortion in a sex offense case and wrongly claims that a murder case was dismissed because of prosecutorial delay.

"It is a damn lie," James said of the extortion allegation, which involved a victims' assistance counselor, not a prosecutor. "He knows it is not true."

The falsehoods "maligned an entire office," James told the Times' editorial board.

Coe acknowledged that before becoming a judge he worked as chief assistant county solicitor _ not chief assistant state attorney as his brochure states. At the time, both offices prosecuted crimes but the state attorney handled first-degree murders and grand jury matters. The solicitor's office did not.

Coe also agreed the extortion charge did not concern an assistant state attorney, but he described that inaccuracy as "really a matter of form versus substance."

Coe denied that the mistakes were deliberately included to mislead voters. He said "it's fair game to be reported" that his brochure contains the mistakes.

As for James' third complaint, that the brochure wrongly claims a murder case was lost because of prosecutorial delay, Coe said that claim was based on reports from the state Supreme Court.

Those reports indicate that a "non-capital murder" case was lost because the state did not meet the requirement that the defendant receive a speedy trial, Coe said. The report listed a case number, 88-7894, but indicated that the court file had been sealed.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Chris Hoyer said the case concerned a fatal traffic accident involving businessman Frank Agliano.

In May 1988, Agliano's Corvette crashed on Bayshore Boulevard and a woman in the car died. Agliano claimed he was a passenger, but police believed him to be the driver and charged him with manslaughter.

Prosecutors decided not to file formal charges in the case because the circumstantial evidence against Agliano could not support the charge. The issue of giving Agliano a speedy trial never entered the picture.

Told of the circumstances of the case, Coe said the information in his brochure came from state Supreme Court statistics that compile information reports from each of Florida's judicial circuits.

If the brochure is incorrect, he said, "it was reported wrong somewhere along the way."

Coe also took a shot at James.

At a news conference, he said James broke a 1984 campaign promise not to accept campaign contributions from his employees. He played a taped television interview in which James criticized former state attorney E.

J. Salcines for taking half his contributions from employees.

"I think it just creates an appearance of impropriety," James told an interviewer in 1984.

Coe said more than 20 percent of the $136,094 James has raised this year has come from state attorney's office employees. Coe did not claim James coerced employees to give to his campaign, but he said James has broken a standard that he set for himself.

"The issue here is trustworthiness," Coe said. "This is not a small violation of Mr. James' promise."

James said he can't remember exactly what he said in 1984, but said he has not asked employees to give to his campaign.

"If I were out soliciting (contributions from employees) that could give a wrong impression," he said.