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No deals _ and no explanations

Good luck getting a good deal in county court these days. Or a mediocre deal. Or even a lousy deal.

County Judge Gary Graham doesn't seem to be taking any plea deals, at all.

Monday, the judge rejected at least 17 such offers for people accused of misdemeanor and traffic offenses.

He offered no reasons or explanations for the sudden about-face in policy.

All of the cases now are set for trial Oct. 26.

"I don't think I've ever seen this before. He's never rejected them (plea deals) en masse before," Assistant State Attorney Liz Osmond said.

Plea bargains are a fact of life in most courts, including Graham's.

The state and defense discuss the facts of a case and decide on a fair punishment.

The judge then accepts or rejects the deal based on his understanding of the facts, the defendant's criminal record, the victim's input and several other factors. Graham sometimes adds some terms to the deal, which the defendant can accept or reject.

Those who turn down the deals have their cases heard at trial either by Graham alone or by the judge and a six-member jury.

Graham is usually tough on lawyers and will not "rubber stamp" plea bargains.

Still, Osmond and some defense lawyers who practice in Graham's court say they are confused.

"They were all fair pleas," she said, adding that many of the deals called for defendants to spend time behind bars.

Public Defender Skip Babb isn't taking the change lightly. If Graham continues at this pace, he said, his office could be representing 60 clients at trials later this month.

Babb spent Tuesday morning rounding up 10 other lawyers in his offices and assigning them Citrus cases.

If the cases go to trial, then the lawyers from Ocala, Tavares and elsewhere will come in to handle the defenses.

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