Crime: Judge who drew fire for jailing jurors has faced criticism before - - PressFrom - US
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Crime Judge who drew fire for jailing jurors has faced criticism before

18:50  18 october  2019
18:50  18 october  2019 Source:   msn.com

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As a criminal court judge, John Kastrenakes put murderers in prison for life, sent fraudsters away for decades and issued thousands of orders.

a close up of a man looking at the camera: Keith Lattimore, 26, appears in this Palm Beach County Jail booking photo. In March 2019, Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes found Lattimore guilty of indirect criminal contempt for jury misconduct. The West Palm Beach man received a 9-day jail sentence and was ordered to serve three months of probation.© Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office / handout/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Keith Lattimore, 26, appears in this Palm Beach County Jail booking photo. In March 2019, Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes found Lattimore guilty of indirect criminal contempt for jury misconduct. The West Palm Beach man received a 9-day jail sentence and was ordered to serve three months of probation.

But no ruling he ever made in 10 years on the bench has stoked more anger and prompted more second-guessing than the 10 days he made DeAndre Alexander Somerville serve in Palm Beach County Jail.

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a person wearing a white shirt: Deandre Somerville, 21, attends a hearing in Palm Beach County Court on Friday Oct. 4, 2019. Somerville listened as his grandfather, Arthur Bullard, tells the court his grandson is a \© Marc Freeman / South Florida Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Deandre Somerville, 21, attends a hearing in Palm Beach County Court on Friday Oct. 4, 2019. Somerville listened as his grandfather, Arthur Bullard, tells the court his grandson is a \"good kid\" who made a mistake by not reporting for jury duty and has learned a lesson from a 10-day jail sentence.

Who puts a 21-year-old man with no criminal record and a solid family upbringing behind bars with violent gang members, rapists and drug dealers for the offense of juror misconduct, of all things?

a group of people posing for the camera: Deandre Somerville, who served 10 days in a Palm Beach jail for missing jury duty, is seen during  press conference in front of the  Palm Beach County Main Courthouse to call for further disciplinary action against Judge Kastrenakes.© Carline Jean / South Florida Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Deandre Somerville, who served 10 days in a Palm Beach jail for missing jury duty, is seen during press conference in front of the Palm Beach County Main Courthouse to call for further disciplinary action against Judge Kastrenakes.

Yet it was a page right out of Kastrenakes’ playbook. He gave a similar contempt of court punishment to another young juror scofflaw six months earlier. And, it just so happens he pounced on two misbehaving jurors twice in early 2015.

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Records show the judge then called out two men for not being truthful during jury selection, and forced one of them to perform 20 hours of community service.

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Critics across the United States now say such a penalty would have been far more reasonable for Somerville, who overslept on the August morning he was to serve on a civil jury panel, causing a 45-minute trial delay.

Kastrenakes — now a target of online petitions, social media blasts and a judicial misconduct complaint seeking his removal — insists jail is the appropriate place for any juror “who behaved” like Somerville.

a man sitting in front of a laptop: Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes listens to an apology from juror DeAndre Somerville on Friday Oct. 4, 2019. Supporters of Somerville have criticized Kastrenakes for sentencing the young man to 10 days in jail for missing jury duty.© Marc Freeman/South Florida Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes listens to an apology from juror DeAndre Somerville on Friday Oct. 4, 2019. Supporters of Somerville have criticized Kastrenakes for sentencing the young man to 10 days in jail for missing jury duty.

He did, “after reflection” however, declare Somerville “totally rehabilitated,” rescinded the criminal contempt finding, and canceled an order requiring three months of probation and 30 hours of community service.

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Jurors have also been refusing to work under Judge Persky. KPIX reports that 20 jurors cited working with The judge who sentenced Stanford rapist Brock Turner to just six months in jail is facing death threats Gary Goodman, who works as the supervising attorney for the Santa Clara County Public

A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as a part of a panel of judges . The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline

In a response to an interview request, Kastrenakes’ spokeswoman Debra Oats wrote in an email Thursday, “Judge Kastrenakes will not be responding publicly on this matter at least until the complaint has been addressed and resolved.”

In his only statement about the controversy, the 63-year-old judge wrote citizens should “take heed that serving on a jury is serious business deserving of attention, respect, and adherence to their oaths. After all, trial by jury is one of our most cherished freedoms as Americans.”

a close up of a man looking at the camera: Keith Lattimore, 26, appears in this Palm Beach County Jail booking photo. In March 2019, Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes found Lattimore guilty of indirect criminal contempt for jury misconduct. The West Palm Beach man received a 9-day jail sentence and was ordered to serve three months of probation.© Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office / handout/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Keith Lattimore, 26, appears in this Palm Beach County Jail booking photo. In March 2019, Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes found Lattimore guilty of indirect criminal contempt for jury misconduct. The West Palm Beach man received a 9-day jail sentence and was ordered to serve three months of probation.

Former prosecutor becomes judge

Kastrenakes’ tough courtroom persona has been molded by nearly four decades as a prosecutor and jurist in South Florida.

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He also faced criticism during a 2011 gang rape lawsuit, when he allowed defendants to submit But the reaction to the Turner case has been exponentially worse, with 10 prospective jurors excused from a jury this The jurors who were excused said they were upset how the judge ruled in Turner’s case.

The California judge who faced criticism for giving what many called a too-lenient sentence to a Stanford University student convicted of sexual assault While prosecutors sought six years in prison for Turner, Persky deemed only six months in county jail and three years’ probation to be appropriate

The University of Florida law school graduate worked the first part of his career as an assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade, including a year in private practice, and later won accolades as a corruption-busting assistant U.S. attorney.

a group of people posing for the camera: Deandre Somerville, who served 10 days in a Palm Beach jail for missing jury duty, is seen during  press conference in front of the  Palm Beach County Main Courthouse to call for further disciplinary action against Judge Kastrenakes.© Carline Jean / South Florida Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Deandre Somerville, who served 10 days in a Palm Beach jail for missing jury duty, is seen during press conference in front of the Palm Beach County Main Courthouse to call for further disciplinary action against Judge Kastrenakes.

In 1999, then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Kastrenakes to Palm Beach County Circuit Court, describing him as a “tough but truthful advocate ... whose extensive experience in handling complex cases qualifies him to fairly administer justice ...”

Becoming a judge, he told The Palm Beach Post, was the “happiest moment” of his life “next to my marriage and the birth of my children.”

Kastrenakes is regarded as having a brilliant legal mind and for working some of the longest days of anyone inside the courthouse in West Palm Beach.

Senior Judge Barry Cohen says his friend Kastrenakes is “an extraordinarily knowledgeable judge, I mean, it’s incredible. … I thought I was knowledgeable in criminal law, but I’ve never seen anything like it.”

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A juror who helped convict Stanford rapist Brock Turner has penned a letter critical of Judge Aaron Persky. Judge Persky sparked controversy when he A juror who helped convict a former Stanford University student of raping an unconscious woman has slammed the judge for his 'ridiculously

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At the same time, some lawyers have accused Kastrenakes of ignoring conflicts of interest in their cases and lacking the proper temperament for the job.

“Toughness — when it turns into abusive — that should not be what a judge is about,” said Glenn Mitchell, a criminal defense attorney who has practiced extensively before Kastrenakes.

“I do not see this [the juror misconduct case] as being an isolated incident,” Mitchell said. “I’ve seen it on several occasions. Just because a judge has the power doesn’t mean they always have to exercise that power.”

Differing views on judge

But all judges have their detractors and supporters, and it’s difficult to find truly objective reviews, or people speaking on the record with anything but praise.

The Palm Beach County Public Defender’s Office recently instructed its staff not to give any media interviews about Kastrenakes.

Some indication of the judge’s standing in the legal community is found in the Palm Beach County Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Survey, conducted every other year.

In the most recent results, from 2017, 84 lawyers with experience before Kastrenakes submitted responses. Eighty percent rated him excellent on knowledge and application of the law, while just 44 percent gave him top marks on judicial demeanor, with 25 percent marking “needs improvement” in that category.

Kastrenakes trended the same way in the 2015 survey, with 106 respondents who had at least one trial or three hearings before the judge.

A Change.org petition now has about 17,000 signatures by people supporting a complaint filed against the judge with Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, an independent watchdog agency. The petition has a goal of 25,000 signatures.

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The judge has been receiving abusive and threatening phone calls since then, Santa Clara Public Defender Gary Goodman told ABC News. Now, about a dozen would-be jurors have refused to take part in a separate misdemeanor case in Palo Alto because Persky is presiding.

It says Kastrenakes “clearly abused his power as a judge” with his “overkill punishment” of Somerville, who was not represented by a lawyer before he was taken away in handcuffs.

In the middle of Somerville’s jail sentence, the public defender’s office filed an appeal challenging that Kastrenakes mistakenly applied the wrong contempt charge and then compounded the error by not advising Somerville of his right to a lawyer who could argue for bond.

But by the time the matter came up for a hearing, it was too late — Somerville had already spent 10 terrifying days in jail.

Seeking judge’s ouster

After reading about the punishment, state Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, began a push to disrobe the judge over the “unconscionable, unthinkable” treatment of the juror.

“It’s abundantly clear that Judge Kastrenakes of course has violated the code of judicial conduct in his official duties, and he should be held responsible for his actions,” Powell said at a news conference last week.

Edwin Ferguson, Somerville’s lawyer, said his client would have been better off never reporting for jury duty in the first place. Ferguson pointed to statistics showing about 70 percent of people fail to respond to jury duty summonses.

“They don’t even show up to the courthouse,” he said. “Nevertheless these people are not incarcerated, and they are allowed to go about their life as usual.”

The Somerville case led to the discovery that Kastrenakes in March had jailed another juror, 26-year-old Keith Lattimore.

In that case, Lattimore was picked for a pool of 50 prospective jurors for a cocaine trafficking trial, but left the courthouse without permission, Kastrenakes said. The punishment was nine days in jail and three months of community service, which Lattimore has completed, records show.

Daniel Galo, Lattimore’s Miami-based lawyer, said he respects the court but believes the sentence was excessive for the offense.

“It is a concern of mine we’re giving the wrong message to the community,” Galo said.

Furor has racial overtones

The protests against Kastrenakes include concerns that the sentences smack of racism. The judge is white and both Somerville and Lattimore are black.

Kastrenakes said Somerville’s unexcused absence from court prevented the six-member jury from being diverse.

“He was the only African American on the jury, representing a cross-section of the community, and he decided on his own that it wasn't worth his time,” the judge said.

But Kastrenakes has been denounced for that remark, with opponents arguing that the specter of jailing young black men for violating jury duty will scare off other blacks from answering juror summonses.

Even Trevor Noah, host of the “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, quipped, “You know racism is bad in America when a black man can get thrown in jail at someone else’s trial.”

Defenders of Kastrenakes say race has nothing to do with what happened, and those attacks are unjustified.

“I’m firmly convinced he does not have a racist bone in his body, and I say that based on discussing cases, dealing with people,” Judge Cohen said.

Impartiality issues raised

Still, questions of fairness have dogged Kastrenakes since his first year on the bench.

In 2010, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office moved to disqualify Kastrenakes from presiding over cases involving charges filed by the Florida Highway Patrol.

The pleading said the judge was biased toward the agency after an incident when a trooper stopped Kastrenakes at a turnpike service plaza and ticketed him for driving the wrong way in a parking lot.

Court records show Kastrenakes then was accused of arguing with the trooper, calling the trooper a “liar” and saying he would dismiss any case the trooper brought before his court. He also reportedly said the episode would leave him with doubts about any trooper who appeared before him.

Kastrenakes “attempted to use the prestige of his judicial position to influence and gain advantage” over the trooper, prosecutors said.

In response, the judge said he was sorry and recused himself from seven FHP cases.

“At the time, I was upset about receiving a ticket which seemed to me to be unjustified by the circumstances,” Kastrenakes wrote. “However, I realize that the tone I used during this encounter with [the trooper] may have been unduly harsh, and for that I extend my apologies to her.”

More recently, Kastrenakes denied two more motions to disqualify himself over unrelated bias claims.

One case involved a woman who had successfully appealed a 20-year prison sentence on grand theft convictions and was awaiting a new trial.

The appeals court ruled that Kastrenakes erred by refusing to let her trial attorney off the case in 2017 after new fraud allegations surfaced in the middle of her trial. Last month, after Kastrenakes insisted on presiding over the woman’s retrial, she took a plea deal for a 10-year sentence, records show.

The other case concerned the murder trial of a man accused of killing his father in Boca Raton and then chopping up the body parts.

Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey this year twice asked Kastrenakes to remove himself from the case based on ethical concerns — before the trial and before the sentencing — and he declined.

Ramsey questioned how Kastrenakes could possibly be fair toward her client, James Scandirito II, after she learned that the judge officiated at the 2017 wedding of the lead prosecutor.

“It is certainly reasonable for Mr. Scandirito to fear for the impartiality of a judge who presided over the marriage of a young prosecutor recently assigned to his case,” Ramsey wrote.

Scandirito was acquitted of murder, but convicted of a felony called “abuse of a dead human body,” and given the maximum possible punishment of 15 years in prison.

Ramsey said Scandirito is appealing the conviction and sentence based in part on Kastrenakes’ refusal to get off the case.

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©2019 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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