U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. has made a courageous ruling that will only add to the chance that justice will be served in one of Tampa's most heinous episodes.
Moody issued an order last week barring police officers attending the trial of Cortnee Brantley from wearing their uniforms in court. Brantley is charged with failing to warn the police who pulled her over for a traffic stop in June 2010 that a passenger in her car, her boyfriend, Dontae Morris, was a felon with a gun and ammunition. Authorities say Morris shot and killed Tampa police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab as they moved to arrest him on a warrant charge. Prosecutors say Brantley fled the scene after the officers were killed.
The brutality of the double murders shook the community, and emotions still are raw. Police officers often appear in uniform as cases move through trial, out of respect for their brethren and to support an officer's family. But a line of uniformed officers in the gallery can intimidate witnesses and prejudice a jury. Moody will allow officers to wear uniforms when testifying. But "the Court is concerned about the prejudicial effect this show of solidarity may have upon the jury," he wrote.
Moody's ruling will no doubt cause some heartburn among law enforcement. But he did the right thing by ensuring a fair environment in the courtroom, and by doing what he could at the outset to prevent the trial from being sent on appeal. This is a model of judicial conduct.