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Ex-Gillum aide says workers were hostile

It was an unemployment hearing unlike most unemployment hearings.

The person seeking state benefits was there. So was a state hearing officer.

But also present were attorneys for both sides. Two sheriffs attended, and another provided testimony.

The news media, however, missed most of the hearing. A newspaper reporter was ordered out to the hallway _ not because the proceedings were secret, but because there was not enough room.

So it went for Jim Francis, the former chief deputy of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. The lame duck Pasco sheriff, Jim Gillum, attended the hearing Tuesday to press his case why Francis should not be paid unemployment benefits.

Gillum announced in early June he was suspending Francis, his second-in-command since 1987, because he suspected Francis had misused departmental credit cards. Francis gave a different account: He said false rumors of his disloyalty had swept the department.

Gillum asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the allegation against Francis. As of last week, a special prosecutor with the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office still was reviewing the results of FDLE's investigation.

Francis resigned shortly after his suspension. Normally, resignation makes a person ineligible for unemployment benefits. But Francis appeared Tuesday with his attorney to argue that a hostile work environment had forced his departure.

The referee of the unemployment hearing, Judy Hime, excluded a Times reporter, because she said there was not enough room. After an attorney for the Times appeared at the hearing and asked that the hearing be made public, Hime agreed to keep the room's door open, so the proceedings could be heard in the hallway.

The last witness, former Pasco corrections officer Fred Mack, testified that some of Gillum's top aides considered Francis untrustworthy and planned to get rid of him.

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"When the smoke clears, I'll be standing tall and Jim Francis will be gone,' " Mack quoted James O'Keefe, Gillum's bureau commander of administration, as saying in the summer of 1991.

Mack also quoted Genevieve O'Keefe, James O'Keefe's wife and Gillum's secretary, as saying Francis was untrustworthy.

Craig Laporte, who was representing Francis, gave this account of other testimony that was not made public:

Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice testified that Francis asked him to help him find work elsewhere shortly before Gillum suspended him. Hernando Sheriff Tom Mylander was unable to attend the hearing, but in a sworn statement presented Tuesday, Mylander said Francis asked him for help in finding a job outside Pasco County.

Testimony was not concluded. Hime said she will schedule another day of the hearing and then make her decision.

Gillum declined to answer a Times reporter's questions, saying: "I don't have to talk to the media anymore." Bill Rowan beat Gillum 70 percent to 30 percent in the Republican runoff Oct. 1.

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