By: Christopher Stango
Newspaper Ran Allegations From Sealed Documents
The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune is facing a subpoena after
two of its reporters printed information about a circuit court
judge and his alleged sexual activities from a sealed grand jury
report. The grand jury was investigating misconduct allegations
of the Hillsborough County Courthouse, and although they did not
indict anyone, they issued a report of their findings.
This presentment, as it is called, is kept sealed for 15 days
while any person named in the document can contest or suppress
the findings. When the Tribune cited “sources familiar
with the report” in their detailed story about the grand jury’s
decisions on Dec. 9, it became obvious that someone leaked.
Now, attorney Ralph Fernandez has filed a motion for a subpoena
against the Tribune. Fernandez represents Hillsborough
Circuit Judge Robert Bonanno, who was being investigated by the
According to the Tribune, the grand jury found that
Bonanno had an affair inside his chambers and that such conduct
was unbecoming of a judge. The Tribune also reported that,
in July, Bonanno was alone in another judge’s office, searching
for documents. The grand jury suggested that Bonanno resign and
be investigated by the Judicial Qualifications Commission.
“This information was confidential and not to be disclosed under
any circumstances,” Fernandez said. In his petition, Fernandez
wrote that his client “endured this outrageous behavior without
the ability to charge back, deny, or explain due to the complex
nature of the grand jury process.”
At the Tribune, editors are defending their reporters as
well as the decision to run the story. Senior Editor Larry
Fletcher said the public needs to know what circuit judges are
doing in the courthouse. “We obtained this information lawfully,
through nothing but good, aggressive journalism,” he told
E&P. “We will not reveal the source.”
Gregg Thomas, a Tribune attorney, said he does not think a
judge will compel the reporters to give up their source.
Christopher Stango is an intern at E&P.
Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.