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In bid for judge, opponent's word is good as gold

In the past few years, Executive Assistant State Attorney Doug Crow has prosecuted some of the most notorious criminals in Pinellas County, including triple-murderer Oba Chandler and serial killer James Randall.

That has put him at odds with a number of prominent defense lawyers. Just this month, he battled Michael Schwartzberg over the Randall case, finally winning a conviction on two counts of first-degree murder.

But when Crow put in a bid recently to fill an open seat on the Pinellas-Pasco circuit court bench, the Judicial Nominating Commission asked him to list his last 10 trials. Then the JNC called the opposing counsel in each case _ including the wisecracking Schwartzberg _ to get an assessment of Crow's temperament and abilities.

Thursday, the JNC announced that Crow's would be one of the three names sent to Gov. Lawton Chiles as qualified nominees for the seat. Friday, there was another hearing on the Randall case. When Schwartzberg walked into court, his first words to Crow were, "So, where's that $50 for my recommendation?"

"He was kidding," Crow explained later. "Actually, I gave him $100."

HEY, BUT WHO'S COUNTING: Anyone who looked over that list of nominees for the open circuit court seat might have noticed a certain uniformity to the choices: Crow, Pinellas County Judge Peter Ramsberger and Pasco County Judge William Sestak.

The vacancy was created by the death of Circuit Judge Marsha Glisson, one of the circuit's eight female jurists. Thirty-nine people applied for the job, nine of them women who were, perhaps, encouraged by Chiles' stated goal of appointing more women and minorities to the bench.

But when the JNC, a group made up of four women and six men, narrowed that list down to 11 people it invited for interviews last week, only one woman made the cut, Assistant Public Defender Nora McClure. And when the JNC made its final selection, women were shut out.

The shutout only deepens the irony of a letter Chairman J. Larry Hart sent to one of the female applicants who failed to make it past the first stage of the selection process.

The letter Hart mailed to St. Petersburg lawyer Sarah Chaves, who narrowly lost a judicial race to Mark Shames last fall, begins: "Dear Mr. Chaves . . ."

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION: At Stetson University's College of Law, professor Jerome Latimer teaches would-be lawyers about dealing with evidence. So when he witnessed a crime _ and not just any crime, but one that made international headlines _ you would think police would jump at the chance to talk to him.

It happened two months ago. Latimer and his wife were in Washington, D.C., for a conference. They had just had dinner and were walking down the street when they saw a car zoom through the light and fly past them at what looked to be 85 to 95 mph.

"I remember seeing him go down the street like it was a Grand Prix race," Latimer said last week, "and I remember thinking, "I'm glad nobody else is on the road.' "

It turned out somebody was. Moments after the car passed them, they heard a crash. The next day Latimer learned from news reports that the crash they heard had killed a 16-year-old girl from Maryland and injured four other people, and that the speeding driver was George Makharadze, a diplomat from the Republic of Georgia whose position gave him immunity from prosecution. The case caused such a furor that last month Makharadze's government waived his immunity, and Washington police arrested him.

Latimer said when he realized he had information that might be important, he phoned police to report what he had seen. But in the past three months, he said, nobody has gotten in touch with him about testifying.

Latimer says he feels fortunate that they were only witnesses and not victims. "If we'd been two or three seconds earlier crossing the street," Latimer said, "he would've killed us."

TURNED PHRASE: At last week's County Commission meeting, Commission Chairman Bob Stewart couldn't resist pointing out the funny phraseology on an agenda item calling for the board to approve an agreement for the county to place advertisements on Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses.

"This agreement . . . provides for advertising the county's program for proper management of industrial household chemicals on PSTA buses," the item read.

"Oh, for the want of a comma," Stewart exclaimed.

"We have to get some utilization out of the buses, sir," County Administrator Fred Marquis quipped.

Those who do ride PSTA buses are encouraged to leave their Clorox at home.

BITTEN BY THE BUG: Safety Harbor city Commissioner Fran Barnhisel bid the city a fond farewell last week as she stepped down after one term. She didn't runagain because she and her husband, dentist Wayne Barnhisel, are completing a new house outside Safety Harbor.

She definitely would have run again, Barnhisel said, if she had stayed in town.

Fellow Commissioner Don Fletcher gave Barnhisel a little hint that her political career doesn't have to end. As a going-away gift, he presented her with a mounted precinct map of Clearwater, her new home.

Barnhisel said she might just surprise Fletcher and put the map to use. "It kind of gets in your blood," she said.

_ Times staff writers Jen Pilla, Craig Pittman and Wilma Norton contributed to this report.

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