TAMPA — A partial plan for what to do with protesters arrested during the Republican National Convention in August is designed for speed, including "expedited" hearings heard by multiple judges at the satellite county courthouse in Plant City — possibly day and night.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office hasn't decided where it will jail arrested protesters. But the court administration said Thursday that they will plead their cases via closed-circuit TV before judges in Plant City.
Judges will preside over two or three sessions a day. Court officials are contemplating more hearings at night.
"The plan is to expedite," said Michael Bridenback, trial court administrator for the 13th Judicial Circuit of Hillsborough County. "A lot of folks will be out-of-towners. We'd prefer to expeditiously dispose of as many cases as we can, in accordance with the rules."
The Aug. 27-30 convention is expected to draw 15,000 protesters.
More than two dozen groups are expected, representing organized labor, the anti-war movement, college students, immigrants, welfare rights and gender equality activists. The groups come from Florida, Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Utah.
That doesn't count the counter-protesters and anarchists.
It will basically turn court routines upside down.
Jury trials will be put off. Other proceedings will be moved from the downtown courthouse to alternate locations between Aug. 22 and Sept. 3.
First-appearance and bond hearings for non-protest arrests will be held at the Falkenburg Road Jail.
Detention hearings for juveniles will be moved to the Department of Juvenile Justice building on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Children's dependency cases and shelter hearings will take place at traffic court at the Floriland Mall. Domestic violence injunctions will be heard in Plant City.
"Other court matters will be rescheduled," Bridenback said.
John Dingfelder, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU in Tampa, said he hasn't seen a plan in writing, but what he's heard so far sounds good to him.
"We hope no one gets arrested," he said, "but if they do, it's critical they get due process in an expeditious fashion."
John Barry can be reached at (813)-226-3383 or [email protected]