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Courthouse soon to lose a knowing set of ears

In Hillsborough's criminal courthouse, it seems some things never change. The place will be packed Monday and deserted Friday. All the Cuban cheese toast at the snack bar will be gone by 9 a.m. Children will race the halls, and sometimes, people will come out of courtrooms weeping.

And Lorenzo will be there in his blue uniform shirt, watching it all.

But next year will be different. Lorenzo, head custodian, unofficial political consultant, a man with the ear of the courthouse powerful and the skinny on truth and rumor for more than three decades, plans to retire in the fall of 2000.

He admits he will miss judges and the judicial assistants _ "my JAs" _ and "just being a public servant to my fellow man."

It is said that only the unwise have discounted him as just another courthouse worker. Lorenzo (and for the record, it's Lorenzo Fraines Hayes, though he is universally known simply as Lorenzo) has seen state attorneys elected and defeated, watched young lawyers mature into judges and been there through endless courthouse dramas.

Known for his sage and succinct sayings, he is a man who keeps his own counsel but always seems to know who will run for office, who will apply for appointed positions and who will ultimately get them.

Hillsborough Chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez said Lorenzo was already an institution when Alvarez first knew him in 1974.

"If he likes you, he'll work on your campaign, and he'll work extremely hard," Alvarez said.

The judge said he considers Lorenzo the unofficial historian _ "the Tony Pizzo of the courthouse" _ and hopes to one day get him to compile that history.

"He knows everything," Alvarez said.

THE LATEST VERMIN: First there was the platoon of rats that infiltrated Hillsborough's main courthouse, causing a shutdown of the snack bar and generally grossing everybody out.

Then came the influx of fat black flies.

And this week, a drug court counselor in her office was bitten on the arm by what her doctor later determined to have been a brown recluse spider, which can be dangerous if not treated immediately. (The counselor went to her doctor after the bite swelled like a wasp sting).

Court administrator Mike Bridenback said that as a precaution, the area was fumigated.

"There haven't been any sightings since then," he said. So officials have theorized the spider may have hitched a ride in some boxes moved in from another building.

"I guess the courthouse tends to attract pests," Bridenback said. "All kinds."

NOT RUNNING YET: It's official. As reported by La Gaceta, Chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez confirms he will not run for state attorney against the incumbent, Harry Lee Coe, though the judge admits he gave the idea of vying for the job of top prosecutor "very, very serious consideration."

"Not going to do it," Alvarez said this week. "I'm going to stay put. I love my job."

The judge does not, however, rule out the idea of running for mayor in a few years.

"That's a possibility," he said.

WANT TO BE A JUDGE? It's application time again, this time for two new recently funded circuit judgeships.

Interested lawyers who live in Hillsborough County and have been members of the Florida Bar for the last five years can pick up applications from the office of Joseph F. Kinman Jr., chairman of the nominating commission, at 501 E Kennedy Blvd. on the 14th floor.

The application and nine copies are due back by Sept. 1.