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Undies are out of order in his court

TAMPA — Circuit Judge Daniel Perry had seen one backside too many.

Tired of seeing inmates' underwear sticking out above their low-slung orange pants, Perry delayed court for 11/2 hours Wednesday morning. He ordered all 61 inmates on his docket back to jail so that the few wearing loose bottoms could change into pants that fit.

A day before, an inmate's exposed underpants had prompted the judge to cut court short.

"I do not want to see these people in here again with their rear ends hanging out of their pants," Perry said Tuesday, according to a transcript. "We're done."

His actions drew a quick response from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Deputies were reminded of proper sizing methods for inmates, and a selection of spare pants was delivered to the courthouse.

Score one for the judge in the case of Perry vs. Sagging Britches.

"The judge was justifiably frustrated," said Col. David Parrish, who runs the county's jails. "It should have been caught by my staff."

Perry was in no mood to comment Wednesday.

For insight into his aggravation, consider this: He saw an inmate's pants actually fall down in court earlier this year.

As the judge who hears probation violation cases, Perry decides whether inmates stay on probation or go to prison. Reasonable people, said defense attorney Rick Terrana, would try hard to make a good impression on the judge.

"Walking into court with your pants behind your knees is about the most unfavorable impression you can make," he said. "It's like a slap in the face of the court."

He had a case before Perry on Wednesday morning but didn't mind the inconvenience.

"We're used to delays around here," he quipped.

Debra Villano rushed from her home in Spring Hill to attend a friend's 8:30 a.m. hearing. An hour later, she was among about 30 restless people still waiting outside Courtroom 16B. A sign hung on the door: Court will be delayed waiting for transport of inmates. Not sure how long.

Villano didn't quibble with the judge's gripe but rather with how he made his point.

"It's very disrespectful" of people's time, she said. "That's the jail that failed. It shouldn't have been put on anybody here."

Jail officials fight a constant battle to get inmates to keep their pants up. The sagging style is believed to have started in prisons where belts or drawstrings were considered safety hazards. It's believed that the style was then picked up on the streets after being embraced by rap artists.

But Parrish said the inmates aren't ultimately to blame.

Deputies shouldn't hand out oversized uniforms, he said. It's up to them to make sure that a man with a 30-inch waist doesn't end up in a pair of XXL pants, and the deputies who drive inmates to court should double-check attire, he said.

Perry called Parrish on Tuesday about the problem. After it occurred again Wednesday, the jails chief vowed to make things right.

"I'm not going to have this come up again," Parrish said. "That may be cool fashion to some people out on the street, but it's not what we expect in the jail system."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Undies are out of order in his court 09/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 2:21pm]
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