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Paying the Race Card

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When Whitelock began working at BSO, Coleman, whose rank was reinstated shortly after Cochran took office, would see the lawyer occasionally in the halls.

"He always would tell me, 'You know they really don't like you,'" she said. "'People really hate you.'" It wasn't said in a nice way, Coleman claims.

The "they" Whitelock was talking about were fellow deputies. Coleman had developed a reputation, after testifying in the court case and for frequently reporting other deputies' transgressions, as a "snitch," she says.

"She was known to be a by-the-book deputy," Whitelock explains.
In 1993 Coleman testified in court again, this time alleging that deputies beat up her sixteen-year-old nephew while arresting him. She was later accused by deputies of telling her nephew's public defender that one of the deputies involved was a liar and that several deputies were known to brutalize blacks. Needless to say, she wasn't winning any new friends in the department.

During her final few years at the sheriff's office, one deputy after another -- many of them her subordinates -- filed complaints against her, usually after she had accused them of not going by the book.

In the end, a collection of accusations against Coleman made by inmates and a couple of deputies were lumped together in a complaint by Susan McCampbell, the director of the jail, charging Coleman with harassment and conduct unbecoming a deputy.

The charges ranged from a deputy, who was one of Coleman's subordinates, complaining that Coleman threatened to write him up, to an inmate griping that Coleman refused to give him a new tray of food after he found a hair in his grub. Also used against her was a psychologist's opinion that Coleman had "interpersonal deficits which are likely to hinder her ability as a supervisor." It was McCampbell, her accuser, who ordered Coleman -- who was then pregnant with her now two-year-old son -- to see the psychologist, who, it should be noted, is paid by the sheriff's office.

Sitting on the board that fired her was McCampbell, her accuser, and Charles Whitelock, her former attorney. By this time, Whitelock's deal with the sheriff had already netted his law firm millions of dollars.

Whitelock's dealings for and against Coleman constitute a breach of ethics, Nieman argues. The bar rules state that a lawyer can't represent someone against a former client in the "same or substantially related matter." To Nieman and Coleman, the firing was "substantially related" to the demotion case because both involved Coleman's job as a BSO deputy: Whitelock had gone from representing Coleman against the sheriff's office in her quest to get her former job back to representing the sheriff's office against Coleman to take away her job altogether.

"Here was an attorney who I had told my secrets to -- not that any of my secrets were bad -- but I told him personal things and he was sitting on the board that was firing me," Coleman said.

Coleman filed a bar complaint against Whitelock on January 29. Whitelock argued in his response to the bar that the matters were "totally unrelated," and curiously stated he had made only a "personal appearance" on the board that fired her, underlining the word "personal."

He recently said he didn't represent her at all back in 1992, but only gave her "advice" -- an assertion that ignores a November 25, 1992 letter he sent to Coleman ending his "present representation" of her in the demotion case.

Whitelock now says that bit of correspondence was just a form letter he sent to all his former clients who were affiliated with the sheriff's office.

Another key sentence in his written response to the bar: "No fee was either charged to or paid by Ms. Coleman."

"If he said I didn't pay him, he's a liar," Coleman said emphatically.
When questioned about it, Whitelock tempered his original assertion.
"I could be wrong," he told New Times. "But I would make a fair-sized wager they won't come up with one paper to prove I was paid."

Coleman said she plans to search through her many boxes of papers regarding her long battle with BSO to try to prove him wrong.

On March 12, Adria Quintela, assistant staff counsel for the Florida Bar, ended the matter, ruling that there was no "clear and convincing evidence" of a conflict of interest. Given an opportunity to explain her decision to New Times, Quintela didn't do so.

But that's not the end of the legal wranglings between BSO and its accusers -- the discrimination suit is still alive. Coleman is adamant that she wouldn't have gone through all that she did if she weren't a black woman.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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