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A nationwide backlog this summer means a longer wait for passports. But you don't have to stand in line for hours to get the process started.

In mid-May, the Hillsborough clerk of the circuit court got permission from the federal government to open a passport application agency. Its offices in Brandon and Ruskin now buzz with activity.

The downtown Tampa location, however, hasn't gotten much business, said JoAnn Constantini, director of official records for the clerk's office.

She wants to change that.

On Tuesday, she drove to the passport center at the Tampa airport post office. About 40 or 50 people were standing in line to apply for passports, she said.

One woman had been waiting three hours and wasn't close to the front. Constantini told her about the short line at the clerk's 501 E Kennedy Blvd. location. They could even get their pictures taken there.

"We have people sitting there waiting to take care of people," she said. "Why wait for three hours when you can do it in a half-hour?"

The woman, and eight others, followed Constantini downtown. Two hours later, all nine applications were in the mail.

"You're like the pied piper of passports," Constantini's boss told her.

Too bad she can't do something about getting the applications processed faster.

He must be big tipper

At a recent hearing, Tampa attorney Catherine Real tried to sort out the finances of troubled Devil Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes. Real represents Dukes' estranged wife in the couple's divorce.

On the witness stand, Dukes told Real how he budgets his income.

A $1,000-a-month car lease. Child support payments of $2,000 to $3,000.

Real nodded, following along.

Then, they got to Dukes' hair.

$1,000 a month.

Real looked skeptical.

"That's more expensive than John Edwards'," she said.

Courtroom onlookers chuckled.

Dukes looked defensive, assuring her the number was correct.

"It can come out to that because I do leave tips," he said.

Sharp-dressed men

Criminal defense lawyer Marcelino Huerta may be best known for his trial work inside federal and state courtrooms, but a different distinction landed him on the cover a local glossy magazine.

He's one of the city's 20 "best dressed," according to the summer issue of Tampa Bay's Best.

Local custom clothier Richard Greaser of J. Richards of Florida Inc. nominated Huerta and civil trial lawyer Anthony T. Martino. So, of course, both men wore at least one garment from that company in their portraits.

The clothing these guys can't live without?

Fine cotton socks for Huerta, hats of every variety for Martino.

Huerta's socks don't show in the cover shot, but his navy suit and red tie definitely peg him as a lawyer.

"I have had a lot of better-dressed lawyers call me to ask how this happened," he said.

Got a tip? For cops news, contact Abbie VanSickle at vansickle@ or (813) 226-3373. For courts news, contact Colleen Jenkins at or (813) 226-3337.