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Wednesday, January 27, 1999

Shinnamon's 'short man' remark resurfaces

By CINDY SWIRKO
Sun staff writer

A letter in which Gainesville Police Chief Don Shinnamon said he believes a prosecutor tried to publicly embarrass and humiliate him has revived the tempest of Shinnamon's "short-man syndrome" comment.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bill Cervone said during a legal hearing that Shinnamon said a lieutenant demoted for ticket-fixing has a reputation for "short-man syndrome," generally characterized as a bullying and intimidating demeanor.

Shinnamon sought an opinion from the Attorney General's Office on whether Cervone's testimony violated attorney-client privilege.

On Tuesday Shinnamon added that he "felt betrayed" by Cervone. Shinnamon said he has also sought an opinion from The Florida Bar on whether Cervone's comment was ethical.

"We were discussing the prosecutability of the case and that is part of the decision-making process - a person's reputation," Shinnamon said. "I was just curious of whether it's privileged conversation. I think there could be a chilling effect if police officers are not free to share information and have to worry that the State Attorney's Office is going to disclose conversations."

Cervone said Tuesday he was fulfilling his legal duty by testifying truthfully in the arbitrator's hearing about Shinnamon's feelings toward Lt. Walt Eisenbrown, whom the chief had demoted for having a ticket to his former wife voided.

Cervone added it is "absolutely not true" that he was trying embarrass Shinnamon.

"I was subpoenaed to the hearing by his lawyer. His lawyer knew that if I was asked the appropriate question, I would answer with the truth," Cervone said. "If he at all thinks that I'm going to go into a hearing and say anything but the truth, he is wrong."

Gainesville city officials say the relationship between Shinnamon and Cervone could signal a rift in the relationship between the two agencies.

City Manager Wayne Bowers said he spoke with both Shinnamon and State Attorney Rod Smith about the incident.

"I'm concerned there could be a rift," Bowers said. "Those two agencies have to work real closely for the benefit of the citizens they must have a good working relationship. I think we always have and I want to continue that."

Shinnamon made the short-man comment when he privately discussed with Cervone possible criminal action against Eisenbrown when the ticket-fixing incident happened last year.

Eisenbrown contested the demotion. An arbitrator held a hearing on the matter. Cervone related the comment during the hearing under questioning by Eisenbrown's attorney.

The arbitrator restored Eisenbrown to lieutenant, citing the comment as evidence that Shinnamon demoted Eisenbrown in part out of personal animosity.

Assistant Attorney General Gerry Hammond last week replied in a letter that Shinnamon was not Cervone's client. Therefore, no attorney-client privilege exists. Shinnamon said he has not yet heard from The Bar.

Shinnamon said his working relationship with State Attorney Rod Smith is close and said the issues between he and Cervone have not impacted the work of the agencies.

Smith said Tuesday he spoke with Shinnamon that morning and reiterated their commitment to a good working relationship.

"In our conversation we conveyed to one another our strong feelings over this issue," Smith said. "Despite this issue, which is very disturbing, we've had a good working relationship in many of the projects we are working on. It's our goal to continue to meet our missions. Bill Cervone was subpoenaed to testify. I have no doubt he testified what he believed the truth to be. I have every confidence in Bill Cervone as my first assistant."

Gainesville City Attorney Marion Radson said he was not aware that Shinnamon had written the letter.

Typically, Radson said, the police chief would discuss the matter with city attorney beforehand for a mutual decision on whether an Attorney General's opinion was needed.

"Generally speaking, anyone who requests an opinion will first seek the legal advice and counsel of the in-house counsel," Radson said. "There was some discussion between one of my assistants and the chief of the general issue, but there was no knowledge a letter had been sent. I think it's good practice for local government employees to first seek the advice and counsel of their in-house lawyer."

Meanwhile, Eisenbrown has begun serving at 21-day suspension that was ordered by the arbitrator, Shinnamon said. Shinnamon added he still has not decided what kind of duties Eisenbrown will be given when he returns to work as a lieutenant.