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Prosecutor ends bid for Pasco judge after he’s accused of inappropriate comments

Assistant State Attorney Chris Billings allegedly made inappropriate remarks to a Pasco County Sheriff’s Office attorney in a December phone call.
Chris Billings, an assistant state attorney based in Pasco County, withdrew his candidacy for a county judge seat this week. Earlier this month, an attorney for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office reported in an internal memo that Billings made inappropriate comments to her during a phone call last month.
Chris Billings, an assistant state attorney based in Pasco County, withdrew his candidacy for a county judge seat this week. Earlier this month, an attorney for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office reported in an internal memo that Billings made inappropriate comments to her during a phone call last month. [ Florida Bar ]
Published Jan. 29, 2020
Updated Jan. 29, 2020

NEW PORT RICHEY ⁠— Assistant State Attorney Chris Billings ended his campaign for county judge this week after he was accused of making inappropriate comments to a lawyer for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

According to a Sheriff’s Office internal memo, attorney Catherine Mansfield called Billings to talk about a case on Dec. 13. Billings answered with the phone on speakerphone, with his secretary in the room with him, the memo said. Then he asked Mansfield if she wanted to cuddle with the secretary.

Mansfield declined and tried to steer the conversation back to the case, according to the Jan. 2 memo. Billings told her she was being “unfun” and that he could get her a “Billings for Judge” shirt. He suggested she cut it into a crop top and wear it around the office.

“Your boss endorsed me, so he wouldn’t mind,” Billings said, according to the memo, in reference to Sheriff Chris Nocco’s endorsement of Billings last year.

Mansfield tried again to change the subject, the memo said, but Billings cut her off and told her to stop talking so he could picture the attorney and the secretary cuddling. Mansfield then ended the call.

She told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday that she stands by the events described in the memo. Asked if she considered the incident sexual harassment, she declined to comment.

Billings told the Times that Mansfield’s memo was “full of things that were never said,” though he declined to go over each statement Mansfield described in the memo. He also declined to share his version of the conversation, saying only that it “was not at all sexual in nature.”

Catherine Mansfield is the daughter of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Declan P. Mansfield, who hears civil cases in the West Pasco Judicial Center, which is also where Billings works. She said she was also considering a run for the same county judgeship, though she has yet to file for candidacy.

“It has been something for a very long time I’ve been considering,” she said.

Billings repeatedly called the timing of Catherine Mansfield’s memo “suspect.”

“It looks like someone who has a motive to cause a problem for someone who was in a race she was wanting to get into,” he said.

He said the race had been “difficult” and that he had planned to drop out “long before” the memo came to light.

Documents show that Nocco wrote to Billings on Jan. 3, a day after the sheriff’s attorney reported the phone call, to withdraw his endorsement. Nocco sent another memo to Billings 10 days later to reiterate his point, saying that his endorsement still appeared on Billings’ campaign website.

Nocco "will not be involved in the race moving forward,” according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.

Billings became an assistant state attorney in 2010, shortly after he graduated from the Stetson University College of Law, according to his LinkedIn page. Based in west Pasco, he manages a division of five attorneys prosecuting felony cases for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office.

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A Florida Bar spokeswoman said Billings has no public disciplinary history, no complaints closed in the past year and no current complaints related to the December phone call.