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Ex-Port Richey mayor’s attempted murder trial gets last-minute delay

Dale Massad’s trial was set to begin Monday, but defense attorneys said they need more time to deal with new information.
Dale Massad appears in court for a motion hearing on his bond status on March 14 the at West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey. Massad is charged with attempted murder after authorities said he shot at a Pasco County Sheriff's Office SWAT team.

NEW PORT RICHEY — The attempted murder trial of former Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad will start either three weeks or nearly three months later than expected. A judge agreed to delay the trial Friday morning, during what was supposed to be a final pre-trial hearing.

Massad’s trial had been set to begin Monday. But his attorney Bjorn Brunvand began Friday’s hearing by telling Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Mary Handsel that “a rather complicated issue” had come up at the last minute.

After a bench conversation between Handsel and attorneys, which was not audible to the rest of the courtroom, Handsel agreed to a continuance. Another pre-trial hearing will take place Monday, and trial will be set for either March 16 or May 11.

Related: Ex-Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad’s stand your ground case could tread uncharted waters
Related: Drugs, guns and politics collided in the small town of Port Richey. Two mayors went to jail.

Massad is accused of firing shots at Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies who were serving a search warrant at his waterfront home early one morning last February. Earlier this month, his attorneys filed a stand your ground motion, which argues that Massad believed criminals were breaking into his home when he fired his handgun.

Speaking to reporters after the Friday hearing, Brunvand said the delay was caused by a new piece of information in discovery, though he would not be more specific.

“An unexpected issue came up that we need to further investigate,” he said. “We think it’s something that’s not going to be an issue when we do go to trial, but it would not be the right thing to do to go to trial without further exploring it.”

The delay could change how stand your ground plays out in the trial, Brunvand said. Though stand your ground cases typically involve a separate pre-trial hearing, where attorneys argue stand your ground directly to a judge, this case was set to involve a procedural quirk.

Had the trial started as planned, Handsel would have heard those arguments as a judgment of acquittal — meaning both sides would have presented their cases to a jury as in any trial, but Handsel would have a chance to dismiss the case before the jury’s ruling if she thought stand your ground applied.

That will likely hold true if the trial is set for March 16. But if it’s set for May 11, Brunvand said, there might be a pre-trial stand your ground hearing. May 11 is also when Massad’s trial for practicing medicine without a license is supposed to begin. Authorities were investigating those charges when they served the search warrant last February.

Massad was “extremely devastated and upset that we’re not going to trial on Monday, as are we,” Brunvand said.

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