1. Archive

Criticism of outspoken judge is without merit

It ill behooves a member of the bar _ but in this case no less a personage than the chief public defender, Bob Dillinger _ to be party to taking umbrage with a judge who may have strayed from the niceties of the canons of judicial ethics in a recent case but in no way affected the outcome of that trial. I am disappointed that my newspaper has chosen to take up the cudgel on Dillinger's side in the Aug. 2 editorial Doubts about a judge's fairness. Now, St. Petersburg Times, do you feel intimidated and scolded because I told you I was disappointed?

There is no report or evidence that Judge Brandt Downey's remarks came in an "outburst." Nor is there evidence that "public confidence" in Judge Downey has waned even a scintilla. Personally, I felt that if he cared enough to blurt out that ill-timed rebuke, he must be a very dedicated jurist.

I agree with you that the jury had a perfect right to choose to ignore the testimony of the police officer; he failed to convince the jurors that he was telling the truth. He evidently convinced Downey. But a judge hears a different drum.

Bob Dillinger seems disingenuous and appears to be playing to the gallery with this charge of "bias" on the part of the judge. No one in a courtroom who has been present for the whole trial is "unbiased," especially the judge. What judges do is make determinations after hearing all the evidence. The judge must be "unbiased" at the start of the trial and be "fair" during the trial. That Judge Downey should have been "unbiased" at the end of the trial, after which albeit he improperly reproved the jury, speaks to a concept that does not exist among people who think.

I understand the zeal of advocacy and the obligation of counsel to apply every scintilla of his ability and capacity to the cause of his client. Attempting to take an inconsequential episode such as this one and turn it into a cause celebre in an effort to dishonor a jurist of excellent reputation borders on the disgraceful.

I am sure, after a short hiatus, a refreshed Judge Downey will be back on his bench. I will be further disappointed in my newspaper if it continues to abet this controversy, manufactured of whole cloth, which contains less than a soupcon of merit.

James A. O'Connor, Hudson

Judge deserves applause

Re: Judge ordered to take vacation, July 24.

Judge Brandt Downey may need a vacation, not because of the jury he reprimanded but because of the judicial system itself.

I say, "Good for you, Judge Downey." I'm 100-percent behind you for speaking up and saying it like it is. You have my vote!

It's like police officers who arrest the "drug families" over and over, only to see them out on the corner a few nights later: What an exasperating job having the wisdom to see through them and all the evidence laid out in black and white, only to let them walk out the door again.

We need more judges to speak the truth and say enough is enough.

Maybe the others should tune in to Judge Judy more often.

Hope you have a nice vacation, Judge Downey.

Donald P. Luchan, Palm Harbor

Remember the power of a jury

Re: Doubts about a judge's fairness, Aug. 2.

This Times editorial about a local judge's scolding of a jury for a verdict he found objectionable points out once again the need to require judges to remind juries of their obligation to judge both the facts and the law in each case. Had this been done, it would have been fresh in the judge's mind that he serves the jury and justice, rather than the other way around.

It is only in relatively recent times that juries have had withheld from them knowledge of their awesome power. Each jury has the authority, inter alia, to determine that a law should not be enforced. This very same power brought the Salem witch trials to a halt after the juries dealt the prosecutors 62 consecutive acquittals.

The righteous jury is the only thing that stands between us and the ability of legislatures to pass obnoxious laws.

Frank Clarke, Oldsmar

Burden of proof has shifted

The Aug. 2 editorial, Doubts about a judge's fairness, pointed to another casualty of the war on drugs _ the fairness of the American justice system. One of the most beautiful aspects of the American justice system was that a defendant was presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Most people, especially those who have never had any dealings with our criminal justice system, believe that it is still that way. But in the past few years, the war on drugs has clogged the courts, and our justice system has changed.

Most defense attorneys let their clients know upfront that the vast majority of judges will side with the prosecutor and the police, and it is up to the defense attorney to prove that the client is innocent. If a judge presumes, as the judge is supposed to, that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, then the judge is presumed to be soft on crime. Being soft on crime can be very detrimental to a judge's career.

According to our founding fathers, the trial by jury was supposed to be the final check and balance on bad laws and corrupt systems. Our founding fathers would not recognize the so-called justice that is handed down in the modern courtroom.

Rick L. Meredith, Tampa

Cheers to the women of soccer

Re: A tribute to the women of the World Cup of Soccer, 1999.

Having been born and raised in England, I began playing soccer at a very young age. I have had the privilege of coaching both adult and youth teams here in Florida.

The purpose of this letter is to thank and praise all the women on all of the teams, from all over the world, who gave me such joy in watching the games. Ladies, you were magnificent. You gave 100-percent every moment of every game, and your skill level was outstanding! And, incredibly, some of the players were mothers. The weaker sex? I think not.

And for the U.S. team to win the cup was icing on the cake for me.

Thank you, ladies. I admire and respect you.

Ken Booker, Clearwater

Cruise ships are strictly regulated

Your July 16 editorial titled Treacherous waters levels several inaccurate claims against the cruise industry and presents an untrue picture of cruise industry operations. This letter is written to correct the record and present a more balanced view of the significant rules and regulations that, in fact, do apply to cruise vessels.

Research on our industry would have revealed that the cruise industry is subject to strict international laws and regulations. These regulations are as strict or stricter than U.S. maritime laws. In addition, any cruise ship visiting an American port is inspected by the Coast Guard on a quarterly basis, and the Coast Guard has the authority to require deficiencies be corrected before any passengers embark from a U.S. port. In addition, the Coast Guard recently reported in a comprehensive cruise ship safety study that cruising is "one of the safest modes of transportation available."

Compare the safety standards that cruise ships are subject to with the safety standards for local passenger ferries in the United States and it is clear that regulations governing cruise lines are very strict. For example, ferries sailing in the United States do not carry out-of-the-water survival craft (lifeboats or life rafts) for all passengers and crew. Cruise ships on international voyages must carry 125-percent out-of-the-water survival craft for all persons on board.

Your editorial claims that the industry uses "loopholes" to avoid international regulations and taxes. Again, this is entirely inaccurate. While cruise ships do sail in international waters, U.S. oversight is present. The United States, a major port location for international passenger and cargo vessels, has more than a dozen different government agencies that inspect and regulate the cruise industry. So, it is untrue to suggest that no laws apply. As noted above, these laws and regulations are often stricter than U.S. standards. Cruise vessels not only pay hundreds of millions of dollars to the United States in taxes and fees, the industry was responsible for generating more than $11.6-billion in direct economic expenditures throughout the United States last year.

Passengers should not be misled by your inaccurate editorial suggesting that the industry uses "loopholes" to "flout U.S. laws." Cruise ships offer a safe, secure and enjoyable vacation for millions of Americans every year. The safety and security of our passengers is our top priority, which is why 5.5-million passengers travel on our vessels each year.

Cynthia A. Colenda, president, International Council

of Cruise Lines, Washington, D.C.

Cruise line's penalty was inadequate

Re: Cruise line admits to dumping, July 22.

The attorney general deludes herself, and cruise industry officials wink with relief, at the plea agreement, which Janet Reno says, "should send a message to the entire cruise ship industry that illegal dumping does not pay."


The behaviors of Royal Caribbean were not accidental. They were not the result of negligence. They were purposefully planned, designed, engineered, installed, trained, applied and regularly practiced.

Concerted, thoughtlessly thoughtful decisions were made by scofflaws who cared not for the law, for the marine environment, for marine life or for decency. The people at the top of Royal's criminal family were given a free cruise around the law. A fine means nothing. It's a mere cost of doing dirty business. Only incarceration of the decisionmakers behind the dumping would have been a message, to them and to other senior and junior managers who would meet budget numbers at the mere expense of poisonings.

Short of incarceration, Royal should be forced to post the indictment, factual record and settlement alongside their own Web site's Environmental Report and have the truth online.

Prior to coming to Washington, Janet Reno spent her entire life living close to Florida's marine environment. She, of all people, should have been smart enough to understand the damage, understand the behavior and understand the consequences of good law enforcement and understandable punishment. Shame on the attorney general. She missed the boat.

George A. Makrauer, Treasure Island

Let the taxpayers decide

Re: Debate on tax cut versus paying down the debt.

Let's give the people the means to demonstrate their true convictions:

1. Pass a 10-percent tax cut, across the board.

2. Add a line on all tax-return forms asking if the taxpayer would voluntarily contribute 10 percent of his/her return to reduce the debt by simply checking the box.

3. Sit back and see how few participate.

My personal opinion is that if we are going to reduce the debt, we need to curb wasteful spending in government. I hold this truth to be "self-evident."

Terry R. Arnold, St. Petersburg

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