Smoke and mirrors

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Florida tobacco settlement lawyers got the last laugh. Rejected a month ago for the 25 percent fee they had negotiated ($2.8 billion of the original $11.3 billion deal), which a court called "unconscionable," they went to a three-mediator panel, which was to assess Big Tobacco for the fees and not taxpayers. Result: $3.43 billion, split various ways between 11 recipients. Another, Fred Levin of Pensacola, says he also expects more than $1 million as a referral fee for calling up some of his pals and asking them if they'd like to take the case.

Unsettling reports

The St. Petersburg Times listed Florida Attorney General investigations of Sears (which is of course the one "your satisfaction is guaranteed" place ordinary Floridians count on for traditional value and quality): auto repair centers (current); portrait studio (current); termite/pest control service (settled last year, Sears paid $200.000); credit-card operations (settled last year, Sears paid $3 million); auto service centers (previous case, settled for $3 million in rebates).

The same paper's interview with abortion-clinic murderer Paul Hill reports that he finally feels free at Raiford, since his incarceration prevents him from having to stop any more abortions, thus relieving the pressure. He says his best bud is mass-murderer Danny Rolling.

Stuff you might have missed ...

Men's Fitness magazine named Jacksonville one of the 10 U.S. cities in which men are the least fit (criteria included smoking, drinking, blubberage, per capita burger joints).

• Messy yards: Florida Department of Children and Families removed nine kids from the Tampa trailer of their parents because of excessive messiness. "They just picked the wrong date to come out," said Ernie Taylor, standing in front of what looks like the aftermath of one of last spring's tornados, only it was his actual yard. And Richard Flanzbaum was fined $170 for keeping a 15- foot-long replica of a space shuttle in his front yard in Port St. Lucie. Tribute, said Flanzbaum; property-value deflator, said the neighbors.

• Euel and Leatha Deloach settled their hot-french-fry lawsuit against Arby's in Sarasota. A right-out-of-the-oil fry fell, so hot it stuck to the leg of little Katie Deloach, 2.

• Cheryl Burns, the Lakeland woman accused of setting the October fire that killed a son and a brother, blamed it on voices, according to court papers. Voice said it hates the kids and what are you `Cheryl` gonna do about it? and come on, Cheryl, you can do it, as she fished for a pan, gasoline, and matches.

• More voices: James Faison, 70, pleaded not guilty (insanity) in Panama City to killing his beloved brother Moses in a March flashback by smashing a TV set over his head. James, in full military persona, said he was sure that Moses was "the enemy," had invaded "my quarters," and "I took him out."

• F. Lee Bailey's fighting for the Cayman Islands bank account of his losing Orlando client, infomercialist William J. McCorkle. For perfectly pure reasons, of course, FLB says wait until the criminal appeals end before committing the account, but conveniently, the status quo means FLB's fee (maybe $1 million-plus) is stet. Federal prosecutors say appeals take forever so let's divvy up the money now, which means maybe FLB will have to give some back.

• Just can't stop: One of the henchwomen in the 1996 so-called vampire murders in Tavares, Charity Lynn Keesee, 18, serving 10 years in a pen near Ocala, was caught licking blood with another inmate.

• The Palestinian University of South Florida researcher Mazen Al-Najjar, who has been jailed in Bradenton for a year and a half on a visa violation but can't be bailed out because he's a federally unexplained "security threat," based on "evidence" that is so secret it can't be disclosed, finally found a country to be deported to (Guyana) and is expected to pack his wife and three kids and depart Tampa International on Tuesday. (With no country to accept him, he'd have been looking at a year-plus constitutional challenge to the no-bail law.)

• Sweet-talking the judge: Brian Challis, 24, a.k.a. Son of Satan, New Port Richey, standing before the judge to be sentenced for a drive-by shooting (no injuries), said of the people responsible for apprehending and convicting him (and present company not excepted): "I'll kill them all." Sentence: 80 years. (However, after research by the prosecutor, it appears the maximum sentence available is 40 years, thus causing jurors, cops, prosecutors and judge to circle the year 2038 in their calendars and apply for Guyana visas.)

• It was an old wives' tale back in grade school, that if you hit a guy in the temple, you would kill him. Now, a 20-year-old man in Orlando is charged with doing just that, in a garden variety school-kid-type fight.

• John Bruce Wylie and wife Rosemary, Jacksonville, accused of sending their homemade child porn to Eckerds for developing (thus taking a terrible risk, just to get that second set of prints at half price).

• The Florida Board of Medicine said plastic surgeon Jerry Lingle can't do the lucrative surgeries (breast implants, liposuction) in his office (well, they didn't say "lucrative"; they said, uh, major surgeries, but you get the picture) but that otherwise he's back in business. Florida has had 13 plastic surgery deaths in two years.

• Broward County Main Jail has a refrigerator-sized automatic fingerprint machine and five more on order (bill: $1 million), but the old-fashioned fingerprinting technique takes, what, two minutes vs. a half-hour by machine (though the machine does keep the deputies' dainty fingers clean).

• The state's latest proposed sea-turtle ordinance is in Volusia, where they'd have to turn off all lights visible from the beach. Businesses going dark? But it's not year round, the enviros say: only the nesting season, which is May through October. Daytona hopes for a one-mile exemption around the Boardwalk.

• And the luck of Jack Dean Hutchison, 25, Panama City, ran out when, letting his girlfriend pay for her breast implants with one of his various bogus credit cards, he selected a card that he had illegally obtained in the name of a man who turned out to be the husband of an employee of the plastic surgeon.

Copyright 1998 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Chuck Shepherd, who lives in St. Petersburg, also writes the syndicated newspaper column News of the Weird.

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