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LAWYER WON'T SERVE JAIL TIME

If he completes an 18-month pretrial program, charges will be dropped.

Attorney Dennis Hernandez avoided jail time for domestic violence charges Monday by entering a pretrial intervention program.

Hernandez, 39, was charged with false imprisonment, a felony, and domestic battery, a misdemeanor, after being accused of beating up a former live-in girlfriend on New Year's Day 2006. Hernandez and Rebecca Crigler, the mother of his eldest child, are entangled in an ongoing child support and child custody fight.

He also sued her for extortion, saying she had threatened to ruin his reputation if he didn't leave his current wife or give her more money.

Tampa police arrested Hernandez on Jan. 1, 2006, after Crigler accused him of punching and kicking her and holding her captive inside his $2.5-million Palma Ceia home.

Crigler said their fight began when she resisted his attempt to pull off her shirt and pants. Hernandez hit her, then threw her to the ground and kicked her, his arrest report said. Police took pictures of a cut on Crigler's chin and abrasions on her elbows.

When she tried to leave the home, Hernandez wouldn't let her, records show.

If Hernandez successfully completes the 18-month pretrial probationary period, the charges will be dropped.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office imposed special conditions on Hernandez, including psychological, drug and alcohol evaluations and domestic violence classes. He must write Crigler a letter of apology and perform 50 community service hours. Hernandez did not admit any guilt or wrongdoing in the case, which had been set for trial Monday.

"The reason why I decided to take this route is that it's the most expeditious way for us to close this issue and move forward with the custody case," he said after his court hearing.

Hernandez has offices in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota.

In May, the Florida Bar filed a complaint against Hernandez with the Florida Supreme Court, accusing his firm of dishonest conduct and charging excessive fees for paralegal work.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

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