Judge Robert Bonanno of Tampa resigned in 2001 under a cloud. Now, says the St. Petersburg Times, he is visiting former colleagues to drum up business for a fledgling, for-profit venture aimed at helping people complete their court-ordered supervision. Since July, 166 defendants have paid $65 each for a four-hour class at Bonanno’s Probation & Violation Center. In exchange for their voluntary attendance, their community service hours are waived or significantly reduced.
The three felony judges offering that incentive say they don’t see a conflict with the arrangement, though they are awaiting an ethics opinion. Most of their colleagues – and state corrections officials – haven’t lined up in support of Bonanno’s program. “I think that they’re doing something that the Department of Corrections is supposed to do themselves,” Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta said. In fact, the department does offer educational sessions for probationers. For free. The 15 state-sponsored events scheduled this month will include tips for succeeding on probation, plus information about using public transportation, making life goals and getting job training. Before Bonanno resigned, a state House committee began impeachment proceedings. He stepped down to avoid facing questions about a courthouse affair, the sealing of cases and the purchase of a $450,000 model home.