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Defenders on defense in DUI cases

Usually, when employees of Pasco-Pinellas Public Defender Robert Jagger go to court, they're there to defend someone against criminal charges. That's their job.

But on Wednesday, two of them went to court to face criminal charges themselves. Both charges involve drinking and driving, which Jagger called "kind of upsetting, from an employer's viewpoint."

Assistant Public Defender Robert "Mike" McMillan, 43, pleaded no contest Wednesday to driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident as a result of an incident five months ago, when he veered off Alderman Road in Palm Harbor and rammed a house.

This marks the second DUI conviction for McMillan, a veteran lawyer who heads the misdemeanor division under Jagger. The first was in 1988.

Hillsborough County Judge William Fuente, who was appointed to hear the case at the request of Pinellas Chief Judge Ray Ulmer, sentenced McMillan to a year of probation, a $1,000 fine and $250 in court costs.

Also, McMillan's license will be suspended for a total of 18 months, said Assistant State Attorney Michael Misa, who prosecuted the case. Six months is the result of McMillan's sentence. The other 12 results from his refusal to submit to blood-alcohol or other tests, Misa said.

McMillan also must attend driving school and continue an alcohol treatment program. Sometimes DUI defendants are sentenced to 10 days in jail, but Judge Fuente gave him credit for spending 10 days in the treatment program.

McMillan's attorney, Robert Paver, called the sentence "fair and appropriate."

Jagger said the conviction will not affect McMillan's job status.

"I don't think there will be any change in his employment as long as he continues on with the treatment program that he's on," Jagger said.

Meanwhile, Assistant Public Defender Mark Thellman, 38, saw his own DUI case come to a temporary halt Wednesday because Pinellas County Judge Karl Grube declared a mistrial.

Some maintenance records for the machine that measured the alcohol in Thellman's breath were not available to defense attorney Thomas Tripp before the trial, so Grube agreed the case could not go to the jury.

Thellman, who was arrested in 1991 when he ran a stop sign in Oldsmar, has pleaded innocent to the charge, his first. He now will be retried in January.

About the time Thellman's case ended an unlikely advocate of McMillan's cause buzzed the courts complex in a small plane. Behind the plane was a long banner that said, "How can Mike McMillian (sic) get justice when Russel (sic) has screwed him & McCabe wants to?"

"Russel" refers to former State Attorney Jimmy Russell, and McCabe is Russell's successor, State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

The banner, and two others before it, were the work of Bill Bruckner, who has repeatedly tangled with airport authorities in St. Petersburg and Clearwater and has used banners to assail other officials. McMillan has represented Bruckner in previous criminal cases but didn't ask him to fly the banners.

"He's not doing this with my permission, consent or anything," McMillan said. "He has continued to do it over my objections."

Bruckner, a St. Petersburg resident, said he just wanted to show his support for his former attorney.

McCabe just laughed about Bruckner's banner. "I guess he's not a charter member of my fan club," the chief prosecutor said.