County Judge Gary Graham on Wednesday refused to step down from a caseinvolving a Crystal River couple whose son brought a handgun to school, even though the judge's political opponent represents the couple.
Crystal River attorney Charles Horn, seeking to unseat Graham in the November election, has filed a motion asking Graham to disqualify himself. Ronald and Cary James thought that political situation would make it difficult for Graham to render fair decisions, according to the motion.
Graham denied Horn's motion during a brief hearing Wednesday morning. The judge said a party must have a well-founded fear that the court would be prejudiced.
"Case law is clearly on point that this is not a reason for
disqualification," Graham said, according to a tape recording of the court proceedings.
The couple's 12-year-old son brought a handgun to Crystal River Middle School on Jan. 5 and held the gun to his temple. Teachers were able to take the gun away from the youth and no one was hurt.
Based on a state law enacted in October, prosecutors filed a misdemeanor charge against the Jameses for failing to keep the .22-caliber pistol away from their son. The charge is one of the first applications of the law designed to force adults to keep guns out of children's reach.
During an interview Wednesday, Horn disagreed with Graham's decision. He said the couple has a reasonable fear that Graham would be biased in the case.
"It's an erroneous decision that ignores the reality of the situation," Horn said.
The Jameses "wanted to hire me, and at the same time they were concerned about the fact that I was a political opponent of Judge Graham," Horn said. The couple was worried that Graham "would render a decision in the case based on that."
Graham could not be reached for comment on the decision Wednesday evening.
James, 30, and Mrs. James, 34, pleaded innocent to the charge earlier this month.
Horn said Wednesday that Circuit Judge William Edwards has issued
administrative orders previously keeping Horn's cases out of Graham's
courtroom. Horn said those orders no longer are in effect.
The Jameses' case is scheduled for court Monday, when Graham will rule on a prosecution motion.