INVERNESS — A Citrus County judge considering an appeal from a prominent Tampa law firm on behalf of a teenager sentenced to 30 years in prison wasted no time in making his first ruling.
It took less than six hours.
On June 4, Stephen Romine, an attorney with Cohen, Jayson & Foster, filed two motions for his client, William Thornton IV. He is seeking a reconsideration of the controversial conviction and wants to disqualify Circuit Judge Ric Howard from hearing the case because he is biased.
The judge received a hand-delivered copy of the 47-page disqualification motion, plus appendices, between 9:30 and 10 a.m., Romine said.
The same day, at 3:34 p.m., the clerk's office stamped Howard's order rejecting the request for him to step aside. The judge called the motion "legally insufficient."
Two days later, he asked the state to respond to Romine's other pleadings, saying the allegations about ineffective lawyering require a hearing.
Judicial guidelines require a judge to rule on a motion to disqualify immediately and no later than 30 days after receiving such a motion.
"That qualifies as immediately," Romine said of the judge's timing.
Romine will appeal Howard's ruling, he said.
Thornton was 17 when he skidded through a stop sign on a poorly lit road late on Dec. 28, 2004, colliding with a sport utility vehicle carrying Brandon Mushlit, 25, and his girlfriend, Sara Jo Williams, 23.
Neither victim wore a seat belt. Thrown from their vehicle, both died at the scene.
Williams was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide. Following the advice of his attorney, he left his sentence to the judge, who gave him the maximum adult punishment in September 2005.
On Tuesday, Howard set the first hearing on Thornton's new court filings for Oct. 2.