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Judge and USF football coach she chastised have 'positive' meeting at Tampa courthouse

TAMPA — A Hillsborough judge made news last week when she publicly blasted University of South Florida football coach Charlie Strong after one of his players was charged with sexual battery.

But this week, relations were decidedly better between Judge Margaret Taylor and Coach Strong when the two had a cordial meeting at the courthouse Tuesday.

"It was a very positive conversation," reported Chief Judge Ron Ficarrotta, who met Strong for coffee and asked if he would be willing to meet with the judge who gave him the dressing-down. Strong agreed, and the two spoke for about ten minutes in the chief judge's chambers.

"I think Coach Strong was able to educate Judge Taylor on some of the issues," Ficarrotta said. "It went very well."

In courtroom video gone viral, Judge Taylor had advised the new USF coach to "think long and hard" about the job "before any other members of this community have to suffer at the hands of one of your players." At the time, Taylor was deciding bail for defensive end LaDarrius Jackson, 22, who is charged with the sexual battery and false imprisonment of a woman he knew in her dorm room. This week he was charged with the sexual battery of another woman in March.

First the judge ripped into Jackson, saying if the allegations were true, his behavior was "outrageous" and she was "embarrassed and ashamed" to be a USF graduate.

Then she went after the coach, who was not in court, noting another Bulls player was recently charged in a road rage incident and questioned whether the coach had control of his team.

Her stinging rebuke made USA Today and ESPN. In the fallout, some questioned her impartiality in a case that hadn't yet gone to trial, while others said her comments were not in line with Strong's record for discipline. The judge voluntarily removed herself from the case.

Before the meeting Tuesday, the chief judge gave Coach Strong a tour of the courthouse, where he shook hands with fans in the hallways and sat in on drug court.

Neither the coach nor the judge could be reached for comment Wednesday regarding the rapprochement. But Brian Siegrist, associate director for communication for USF athletics, called it "a very good meeting on both sides. And they both left with a good understanding."

"I know he appreciated the judge reaching out to him," Siegrist said.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

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