After being whittled down charge by charge, the ethics case against Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt vanished altogether Thursday.
The Florida Commission on Ethics voted 5-4 to throw out the remaining charges, which were just two counts left from more than a dozen allegations of misconduct initially leveled against her.
"I'm ecstatic that the process is over," Holt said Thursday. "I'm pleased with the results, and I'm anxious to get back to doing what I love to do."
More than three years ago, the Ethics Commission began reviewing complaints that Holt directed employees to perform a number ofimproper tasks during working hours.
Some of those allegations originally were disclosed in reports in the St. Petersburg Times.
In July 2002, the commission found there was probable cause to think Holt's former secretary Sharon Slater and another employee had written thank you letters related to Holt's 1996 re-election campaign and that Slater typed Holt's personal letters and took Holt's car to the shop for repairs.
Despite earning $31,647 between 1997 and 2001 for teaching at local colleges, Holt did not reimburse employees for their help in typing lesson plans and editing exams, the commission charged. In addition, the commission found probable cause to think that then-employees did personal banking for Holt and typed her application for a judge's seat.
But in October, Administrative Law Judge Stephen Dean tossed out all but two of those charges after hearing detailed testimony and arguments from both sides.
The judge concluded that Holt improperly directed employees to prepare business letters and school materials for her during work hours, and he ordered her to pay a fine of $5,500.
But it fell to the Ethics Commission to review the judge's findings, and at Thursday's hearing, commission member John Grant prevailed in a motion to dismiss the case.
Grant said the preparation of business letters by Holt's staff amounted to six documents in seven years and was voluntarily performed, according to commission spokeswoman Helen Jones.
Moreover, Grant characterized Holt's college teaching as an extension of her public duties, which served a public purpose.
With the dismissal of the charges, the fine vanished, too.
"Hopefully, it's the final nail in the coffin" of the case, said Greg Kehoe, Holt's lawyer.
James H. "Pete" Peterson, the assistant attorney general who argued the case against Holt, said he will not appeal the commission's decision.
"They have made the decision by a majority vote, and the Attorney General's Office will abide by that," Peterson said.
Reached Thursday, Sharon Slater, the former secretary who brought complaints against Holt, sounded ready to move on.
"I felt that she violated the codes of ethics; that's why I filed the complaint," Slater said, but added: "I wish Julie Holt all the best. I don't have any ill will."
_ Christopher Goffard can be reached at 226-3337 or goffardsptimes.com.