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Broward lawyer Stephen D. Jerome, 61, kills self amid child porn probe

3-14-2012 Florida:

Police say that Stephen D. Jerome jumped from the roof of his Fort Lauderdale office building after they searched his home for child pornography and arrested him for drugs

Stephen David Jerome had a flair for the dramatic.

The Pompano Beach bankruptcy lawyer acted in community theatre, and was known to break into song in the courtroom.

Early Friday morning, he chose a dramatic ending to his own life. Police say he jumped from the roof of the 11-story BankAtlantic building at 1600 S. Federal Hwy., where he kept an eighth-floor office, hours after bonding out of the Broward County Jail on minor drug charges.

Acting Broward Medical Examiner Dr. Darin Trelka said that Jerome died at the scene from "multiple blunt force injuries [to the] head, trunk, pelvis and extremities.'' Results of toxicology testing are pending.

Born on Dec. 7, 1950, in Pennsylvania, Jerome was 61.

Officers who raided Jerome’s home, in the 400 block of Northeast 15th Street, on Thursday, found small amounts of pot and oxycodone, and drug paraphernalia. But that wasn’t what they were looking for.

According to a search warrant, they expected to find two videos featuring boys and girls as young 7 being used for sex by adult men. They took his computer equipment and related items.

A woman who answered the phone at Jerome’s office on Tuesday angrily declined to comment or identify herself.

“When someone jumps off the top of your building, your office gets very busy,’’ she said, adding that Jerome’s body had already been buried.

Had he lived, Jerome, a 1977 University of Miami law school graduate, might have faced child pornography charges for the second time.

In 1990, after a three-month investigation that yielded a stash of European kiddie-porn magazines in his bedroom closet, Jerome was charged with sexual performance by a child, a third-degree felony.

Two years later, he was sentenced to probation and community service after pleading no contest. He could have faced five years in prison. Also, the Florida Bar briefly suspended his license to practice law.

At the time of his plea, The Miami Herald reported: “Jerome, who shared the house with several other people, never admitted wrongdoing and was prepared to go to trial, his lawyer [Mark Skipper] said. But prosecutors obtained personal writings and diaries and ‘were just putting so much pressure on him for two years that he couldn’t take it. He just wanted to end it,’ Skipper said.’’

But the experience didn’t stop Jerome from seeking the company of children. A photo on his Facebook page shows Jerome surrounded by youngsters during the Christmas holidays in 2008, in Guatemala.

"This picture was taken just after we finished putting up the lights,’’ Jerome wrote on his Facebook page. “The neighborhood kids were absolutely thrilled with the display and were thrilled to be part of my picture.’’

Jerome was already well known for his holiday displays in Broward. A 2003 Sun-Sentinel feature about elaborate holiday decorations described the candy canes, “big and little snowmen,’’ reindeer, angels, and 27,000 lights outside his home.

Jerome told the newspaper: “My domestic partner, Balvino Barrera, is from a very small, very poor village in Guatemala. Christmas 2001 was our first Christmas together. I got him his first Christmas tree and we decorated inside the house.’’

Friday, Jerome was due onstage for opening night of The Producers, with the Pembroke Pines Theatre of the Performing Arts. He’d been cast in the lead role of the bombastic Max Bialystock, and by all accounts was looking forward to it.

“This was his second show with us,’’ said Alvin Entin, the theatre company’s board chairman, also an attorney. “About two or three years ago, he played Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady,’’ the father of main character Eliza Doolittle.

“He did a lot of work with Broward on Broadway,’’ a now-defunct theatre company, and Curtain Call Playhouse, also in Broward., said Entin, who broke the news of Jerome’s death to the cast on Friday, knowing little more than Jerome had died.

He said he got a call from Jerome’s law clerk, then told director Beverly Riches. Together, they told the cast.

“There was shock, amazement, a lot of sadness, crying,’’ he said.

The show went on with a second actor cast for the role, Keith Kramer, who was to have split the four-week run with Jerome. Another actor, Troy Stanley, who’d recently done the play with a Tamarac theatre company, also is filling in.

“An announcement was made prior to the opening curtain [Friday] that one of the cast members had died,’’ Entin said. “We put up a little memorial plaque’’ at the theater, part of the Pembroke Pines River of Grass ArtsPark.

Kris Coffelt, artistic director of Curtain Call Playhouse, a Broward-based touring theatre company, said that Jerome had done a production every year since the 2006-07, when he debuted in My Fair Lady.

"He did a lot of musical revues from all different Broadway shows,'' she said. "He had a beautiful voice...and a wide vocal range, from high bass to high tenor.''

He also helped out with the lighting and cues, she said.

"The only show he couldn't do was this year, because when we were casting [during the holidays] he was away visiting his partner in Guatemala.''

She said that Jerome "did as well in comedy as drama. He was very versatile.''

In one show program, Jerome's bio noted that he was "classically trained,'' and had been a guest soloist on an Alan King television special.

"He was a sweet, sensitive man, and he took what we did very seriously,'' Coffelt said.

Riches, the Producers director, said that she saw Jerome in My Fair Lady, and cast him in the Mel Brooks musical for his comic timing and strong voice: an operatic tenor.

“He was very thrilled, and it was a big commitment for him,’’ she said, because of the travel time between his office and the theater.

But when he got the lead, he told Riches that he would change his schedule, to make rehearsals.

Jerome’s penchant for the dramatic extended beyond the stage. In 1987, he bought a royal title, Count of Macedonia, from the estate of a homicide victim, for $300.

He was already known as the defense lawyer who belted out a snippet of the 19th Century Italian opera Pagliacci during closing arguments in a 1982 criminal trial.

Pagliacci means “clowns.’’ Jerome lost the case. ..Source.. by ELINOR J. BRECHER AND STEVE ROTHAUS


Porn Probe Pompts Gay Lawyer to Commit Suicide

3-13-2012 Florida:

Stephen Jerome, 61, Had Been ‘Out’ For Decades

Jerry Levy, 69, his legal assistant, a retired attorney said of Jerome, “He lived his life with drama and flair, and with a love and caring, and a song on his lips and in his heart; a good attorney who served his clients well.”

Theater and acting was his passion, and on Friday evening, March 9, Stephen Jerome was set to star as Max Bialystok in the opening of the Pembroke Pines Theater of the Performing Arts production of ‘The Producers.’

Instead, on that very morning, the talented thespian, a prominent open and out gay 61-year old bankruptcy lawyer, took his own life by leaping from the 11th floor of his law office building, located at 1600 South Federal Highway in Pompano Beach.

His death came within hours of his having been released from the Broward County Jail on a $1,000 bond, for charges of Possession of Oxycodone, Marijuana, and Drug Paraphernalia.

Twenty-four hours before, on Thursday morning, at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Jerome had been served with a search warrant, by the multi agency task force known as L.E.A.C.H., the Law Enforcement Against Child Harm Task Force, which targets Internet predators of children and child pornography. The warrant, signed by a Broward County Circuit judge on Monday, March 5, provided for the seizure of Jerome’s home computers.

Detective Jennifer Montgomery of the Broward Sheriff’s Office and her team executed the warrant on March 8. She was troubled by Jerome’s death, stating, “No one feels good about an outcome like this.”

In fact the team of detectives who executed the warrant returned to his law office the next day to express their regrets to his law partner and staff. One even offered to adopt Jerome’s dog, a small mixed shepherd, affectionately, named ‘Nudnick.’

He was arrested on Thursday, not for child pornography, but for the possession of illegal narcotics that he did not have a prescription for, that deputies say, “were in plain view as the warrant was served.”

Nevertheless, the task force will have to carry out its duty to search the computers in order to determine if pornographic files were housed on them. “It’s our obligation,” Detective Montgomery stated, “to identify them in case there are potential victims.”

Twenty years before, in 1992, Jerome had served five years probation for possession of child pornography. It was a terribly difficult time for him. While his law license was suspended, he spent time delivering pizzas.

As Jerome returned to the practice of law, he developed a reputation as a successful bankruptcy lawyer, while cultivating his passion, participating in theatrical groups throughout the county. He played Luther in South Pacific, Mushnick in Little Shop of Horrors, and Charlegmagne in Pippin, along with a host of other starring roles.

“Theater enriched him,” said Keith Kramer, a fellow cast member in The Producers.

Over the years, during the Holiday Season, Jerome would dress as Santa Claus and walk from courtroom to courtroom, regaling crowds and singing Christmas carols for the judicial staff. With a marvelous voice that ranged from high bass to high tenor, Jerome once even appeared as a soloist on an Alan King television special.

His fellow cast members at TOPA in Pembroke Pines have dedicated this show to him.

One of those community actors, renowned attorney Alvin Entin, remarked “Stephen was a bundle of joy and energy and brought enthusiasm and passion to his role and the cast. We are all deeply saddened.”

It was Jerome’s former law partner, Jodi Fisher, who would pick Jerome up from the Broward County jail at 4 a.m. on Friday morning. She drove him to his Fort Lauderdale home, where they chatted about “the future” for a few hours, and how to deal with the arrest, the practice, and other issues.

“Of course,” she said, “he was distraught. But he picked himself up and went to work. He was at the law office by 9 a.m.” Fisher had herself just begun working there again, contemplating a renewed business relationship with Jerome.

But Fisher would later find out that Jerome, upon returning to the office, executed a new will, naming her as the Personal Representative only moments before leaping to his death.

Jerome’s life partner, Balvino Berrera, 48, was in Guatemala with his family. According to Fisher, Jerome had planned on retiring in the next few years to Guatemala to be with Berrera full time. Jerome also wired Berrera funds early Friday morning.

His final words to a staff member at his office that morning was to excuse himself “to go to the bathroom,” but instead he wound up leaping to his death from a small balcony on a higher floor.

Said Fisher, who had just recently begun returning to the office to work with Jerome, “He was my little nerdy brother I could never get rid of. He was my office husband, a wonderful law office partner, and my best friend. People thought we were married.”

“This is terrible news,” Aaron Humphrey, Esq., emailed his colleagues, “Stephen was a great attorney who will be missed.”

Added Dean Trantalis, “It represents the passing of another important member of our community, and is a loss for everybody. The circumstances under which he died are very painful to everyone, but our hearts go out to his family and friends.”

A 1977 graduate of the University of Miami who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, family members are planning a burial and funeral service for Jerome tomorrow in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Local members of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Network will be gathering at his home to celebrate Stephen’s life, Thursday, at 7 p.m. ..Source.. by Norm Kent

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