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Money must be low if hotel pen is a gift

Hillsborough Chief Judge Manuel Menendez joked Thursday that he had complained on past visits to the George Edgecomb Bar Association about dwindling funding for the state courts system.

At the association's evening reception honoring retiring Circuit Judge Perry Little, he said he would sing a different tune. The Florida Supreme Court had heard about Little's retirement and found some money in its budget for a gift, he reported.

Menendez called Little up to the lectern for the presentation. He pulled a pen from his jacket pocket. He said the state's highest court engraved it.

Then he read: "SpringHill Suites by Marriott."

When the judges and lawyers in the crowd stopped laughing, Menendez followed up his punch line.

"So we really do need your help with the budget next year," he said.

Victim, juror lunching ensures a new trial

What's a surefire way to get a conviction overturned?

See to it that the victim in a criminal case eats lunch with a juror.

That happened accidentally during Johnnie Howard's trial in February 2005 on a charge of aggravated battery of a police officer. The injured deputy testified, then had lunch at the courthouse cafeteria with a woman he didn't realize was sitting on the jury.

They didn't talk about the case. The deputy later realized that she was a juror and reported the encounter to the prosecutor.

Jurors were already deliberating. Circuit Judge William Fuente said the contact was "entirely inappropriate and entirely improper" and invited Howard's attorney to move for mistrial. But the judge, concerned about double jeopardy, denied the motion when the defendant didn't agree to it.

On Wednesday, the 2nd District of Appeal said a mistrial should have been granted. The appellate court reversed Howard's conviction, which came with a life sentence because of the defendant's criminal history. He will get a new trial.

Group salutes judge's work to help families

As head of unified family court, Circuit Judge Herbert Baumann Jr. puts an eye toward prevention. He established programs to assist families with abusive teens and to guide foster teens pondering their futures.

On Nov. 17, the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services recognized the Tampa judge for his efforts.

The organization presented the judge with its Outstanding Public Servant award in Orlando. He was nominated by Hillsborough County Children's Services for "immediately influencing the system and achieving a dramatic impact" on juvenile justice, according to a news release from the local agency.

Got a tip? For cops news, contact Abbie VanSickle at (813) 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com. For courts news, contact Colleen Jenkins at (813) 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

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