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Lawyer suspended for harassment

The Florida Supreme Court Thursday suspended Clearwater lawyer James A. Helinger Jr. from the practice of law for two years for making obscene telephone calls to a Tallahassee woman.

The court rejected Helinger's pleas for a 90-day suspension and ordered a harsher penalty, giving him 30 days to close out his practice.

Justice Gerald Kogan was the only member of the court to disagree with the two-year suspension. He said Helinger's misconduct was so serious he should be disbarred.

Kogan said Helinger systematically harassed his victim for his personal gratification, violating his duties as a professional.

Helinger, 48, attributed his misdeeds to the abuse of cocaine and alcohol. He also admitted that he has been making obscene calls to women since he was 11 years old.

Helinger, who specializes in land condemnation cases, has pledged to continue psychological counseling and treatment for his drug and alcohol addictions. The court said continued treatment will be a condition to his reinstatement to practice law.

In rejecting the 90-day suspension recommended by a hearing officer, the Supreme Court called Helinger's conduct "even more egregious" than that of a lawyer convicted of repeated acts of indecent exposure because he subjected a woman to "extreme psychological and emotional trauma" over a period of five years.

Helinger pleaded guilty to criminal charges filed against him after his phone calls were traced to an apartment in Tallahassee occupied by his son. Helinger admitted making the calls on weekends, when he attended sporting events at Florida State University. He is an FSU graduate and has long been a leader in the Seminole Boosters Club. He was sentenced to spend 30 days in jail.

The woman reported being terrorized by the calls, which included a claim that he had nude pictures of her and demands for sex.

The victim used a relatively new device to trap the caller who had been harassing her for so many years. The system allows people who receive harassing telephone calls to use a code that traces the call and allows police to follow up.

The court noted that Helinger's 1991 arrest for making obscene calls was not his first. He was arrested under similar circumstances in 1978 and released on probation. In that case, he called an 18-year-old college student who had placed a newspaper ad to find a missing ring. He told the young woman that he had the ring and offered to exchange it for sex. She reported the calls to police, who tape recorded them and traced them to Helinger.

Helinger could not be reached for comment.