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Judge under investigation seeks sanctions against newspaper

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    NMU         FLORIDA         Secret Courts         Dec 14, 2000    

Judge under investigation seeks sanctions against newspaper

  • The Tampa Tribune reported the recommendations of a grand jury whose findings were deemed confidential and ordered sealed.

A Hillsborough County judge is seeking sanctions against the Tampa Tribune following its report on a grand jury’s findings that the judge had an affair with a court clerk and recommendation that he resign.

A bailiff discovered Judge Robert Bonanno searching for documents in the chambers of Judge Gregory Holder while the latter was out of town. Holder demanded an investigation and prosecutors empaneled a grand jury. The investigation expanded to include Bonanno’s affair with a court clerk, and an affair between Judge Gasper Ficarrotta and a bailiff.

The Tribune, which has not disclosed its source, reported on Dec. 9 that the grand jury concluded Bonanno had an affair in his chambers and that such conduct was unbecoming of a judge.

The grand jury’s finding were deemed confidential and were sealed by Pinellas-Pasco County Judge Susan Schaeffer, who was assigned to preside over the Hillsborough misconduct allegations.

Bonanno has sought sanctions against the newspaper, arguing that the information was confidential and should not have been disclosed under any circumstances.

Larry Fletcher, a senior editor at the Tribune, has told the media that the newspaper carefully considered the legal ramifications of its actions before printing the story, but concluded the law supported publication.

“The public has a right to know what circuit court judges are doing in the courthouse,” Fletcher said.

(Executive Order #00-256, Inquiry Related to the Conduct of the Honorable Robert Bonanno, Circuit Court Judge; Media Counsel: Gregg Thomas, Holland & Knight, Tampa) AG

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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