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Effort to remove judge fails; man is acquitted of 7 charges

Charles Horn didn't want County Judge Gary Graham presiding over his client's trial Saturday. But Horn has no complaints about the jury. The six-member panel acquitted Horn's client, Marvin Joe Leffew, of seven traffic and misdemeanor charges, Assistant State Attorney Jodi Seitlin said Monday.

That victory came a day after Horn lost an attempt to have his former political rival removed from the case for alleged improprieties.

Horn alleged that Graham and Seitlin had two private conversations about the case twice last Monday, the day the trial began, court records showed.

In addition, Horn complained that Graham privately addressed the jury before the trial Monday.

Horn said he and his client should have had the chance to sit in on those conversations. Because they did not, Leffew and Horn said they thought the judge would not be fair, according to sworn affidavits both men filed in court.

The first part of the trial ended Monday, giving Horn a chance to seek emergency help from the appellate courts.

Circuit Judge Raymond T. McNeal, who heads the appellate division for County Court cases, apparently did not buy Horn's theories. In his three-page ruling, McNeal pointed out that some private conversations _ such as the ones Graham conducted _ are proper.

Seitlin said she and Graham talked about when the trial would start. Graham said he spoke to the jury just to explain why the trial was starting at 6 p.m.

McNeal also said that Horn did not file his request to have Graham removed from the case in a timely manner, and that the motion did not meet all legal standards.

So Horn, who ran unsuccessfully for county judge last September, found Graham sitting on the bench when the trial resumed Saturday morning.

In the end, though, it did not make a difference. The jury found Leffew, a 34-year-old Crystal River man, innocent of battery, reckless driving, driving with a suspended license and four counts of culpable negligence.