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On juveniles uncuffed, a politician sued, and courtrooms gone crazy

Some musings on recent legal wranglings:

Score one for the defense, particularly public defenders, those overworked advocates for the poor sometimes derided by their own clients as "public pretenders" even though their ranks have included some of the most determined lawyers around.

The Florida Supreme Court said last month the routine shackling of juveniles in courtrooms is degrading and humiliating. No more, the court said.

This is good why? Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger, who long pushed for the unshackling of the youngest accused, put it succinctly: "There should not be a presumption that kids are bad."

Yes, this means major headache for bailiffs, whose primary focus is not preserving the dignity of defendants but keeping courtrooms safe. (Heck, if I were a bailiff, I wouldn't mind shackling a few of the lawyers and maybe the occasional judge.)

Seriously: If you've ever seen a group of kids "on the chain," it's a disturbing sight, one that does not make you feel good about the future. But presumed innocence is an important concept once they're in the courtroom, especially when you're talking teenagers on the brink.

At last, the Hillsborough County Commission voted to sue fellow board member Kevin White over the costs from a federal jury's finding against him and the county for bad behavior involving a female aide.

White has refused to pony up a penny for his part, and the board had enough. He continues to beat that same old drum about the county being responsible because there weren't proper procedures for workplace complaints — which doesn't really get to the heart of a boss standing at the hotel room door of an underling.

Suing White may indeed be getting "blood from a turnip," as he put it. But it sends the right message to taxpayers already on the hook for this sorry scene.

Have courtrooms gone crazy? With Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley presiding, a jury listened as convicted murderer Cordaro Hardin sang a rap song before his sentencing. The state did not object.

In Pasco, Circuit Judge Michael Andrews let John Ditullio cover tattoos on his face and neck — barbed wire, a swastika and, in case you missed his point, the words "f--- you" — using a cosmetologist at taxpayer's expense. So Ditullio, accused of stabbing two people and killing one, came to court looking less like a neo-Nazi and more like the guy handing you your venti latte at Starbucks.

Judiciary gone whack? Or everyone wisely erring on the side of caution?

It's important to note that both involved potential death sentences, the kind of cases most closely scrutinized on appeal, since, if you are going to execute a man, you pretty much have to make sure every single one of his rights were protected at trial.

This makes me think of Oscar Ray Bolin, the convicted rapist accused of murdering Teri Lynn Matthews, Natalie Blanche Holley and Stephanie Collins in 1986 in Hillsborough and Pasco.

Again and again, he was convicted. Again and again, his death sentences were overturned until one finally stuck in 2004. But again and again, the mothers of the three women sat through his retrials, the terrible testimony, the photographs. Which can have you rooting for erring on the side of caution.

On juveniles uncuffed, a politician sued, and courtrooms gone crazy 01/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 7:49pm]

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