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Ex-judge files for creditor protection

Gary Graham, an Inverness lawyer and controversial former judge, has sought protection under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Graham's liabilities total $118,197.68, according to records on file with the bankruptcy court in Jacksonville. Most of that amount, $92,605.68, is credit card debt.

As allowed under bankruptcy rules, Graham is shielding from creditors his home/office complex on Courthouse Square, which Graham says has a market value of $109,000.

That, by far, is his biggest asset. He values his personal property at $12,990.86, the records showed. As allowed, he is protecting $1,000 of that property.

Otherwise, Graham will liquidate his assets and pay off as much debt as he can, all under the direction of the court.

Graham filed his paperwork in late May, and the court held a preliminary meeting last week. There is no sign that Graham has stopped practicing law. He does not grant interviews to local newspaper reporters, and details of his business future are unclear.

Graham has been a mainstay in local headlines since 1984, when he challenged and almost defeated County Judge Leonard Damron. The Florida Supreme Court eventually removed Damron, and Graham won the next election.

While judge, Graham once ordered a man to kill poisonous snakes that had bitten a neighbor and were ruled a menace. He sent several people to jail for contemptuous courtroom behavior, including a man who received a 10-day sentence for wearing to court a T-shirt that read, "Haulin' Ass."

The Florida Supreme Court found Graham unfit for office and removed him from the bench in June 1993. The court cited his abuse of discretion and contempt powers and several other violations.

While battling the misconduct charges, Graham often said that the fight would leave him bankrupt. He served as his own attorney, however, and received clerical help from volunteers. He retained limited private counsel.

Graham continued drawing his state salary, more than $76,000 per year. The area's chief judge had suspended Graham during the proceedings, but he still collected his pay.

After the high court ousted him from the bench, Graham quickly started a law practice, handling bankruptcy cases, among other specialties.

At first, business appeared to be good. He took in about $62,000 in 1994, when he made an unsuccessful run for Congress. He earned $82,407 in 1995, court records showed.

However, as of late May this year, Graham had taken in just $21,140 and reported his monthly income at $3,158. He lists $3,089 in monthly expenses, apparently leaving little to pay his mounting debt.

Graham names 16 credit cards on his list of unsecured creditors. He also owes money to finance companies and his mother, court records showed.

It's unclear how Graham amassed that amount of debt. He is not married and has no children. He appears to own his home/office complex outright, as he lists no mortgage payment under his list of expenditures.

Graham sold his 1984 Mercury Cougar for $500 in May, shortly before filing for bankruptcy, the records showed. He also sold an electric range for $35. In March, he paid more than $1,000 to MBNA America, the credit card holder to which he owes the most: more than $28,000.

Graham said his mother, 70-year-old Virginia Dare Kennedy, sold her Homosassa home and moved in with him.

In his initial petition to the court, Graham indicated that he would surrender to creditors some computer equipment, two TVs and computerized legal research tools.

He sought to keep the rest of his property _ mostly computers, a 1996 Ford Thunderbird and a copy machine _ and refine his payment plans.