1. Florida Politics

Sue Carlton: Progress for cats and judges, too

Published May 3, 2013

Look at that — Hillsborough County government can be progressive, at least when it comes to cats.

This week commissioners approved a smart plan to reduce the terrible number of animals killed at the county shelter yearly. Well, except Commissioner Standing-Up-For-Squirrels Crist, but more on that in a minute.

The commission, which can sometimes be cowed by the crowd, did this in the face of opposition to the "community cat" program, the single hot topic in the comprehensive proposal.

Endorsed by the ASPCA and practiced by the Humane Society, these programs take feral or free-roaming cats, neuter and vaccinate them and put them back where they lived instead of euthanizing them. Fixed, they can't make more cats.

People packed this week's meeting, veterinarians and bird lovers against it, other animal advocates and veterinarians for it. It got pretty passionate.

This was a tough one with no perfect answers, but commissioners saw the light, or at least the logic. Except Victor Crist, who said he was "leading the cause for the squirrels and the birds … who will lose their lives as a result of this decision." Crist apparently did not buy the argument that feral cats are already out there. And by the way, what do you think of "Leading the Cause for Squirrels" as a campaign slogan?

Good for commissioners. This might be a board that could not see its way to protecting basic rights for unmarried couples with a domestic partner registry like other cities and counties have, but at least they got this done. Hillsborough County: A place of progress, at least for cats.

• • •

Frustrated by how few citizens summoned for jury duty actually show up, a committee of Hillsborough judges and others in the court system is trying to do something.

An interesting idea has come from that committee — one about judges themselves.

The problem: An abysmal 25 percent of people called to jury duty actually appear. This can leave judges and lawyers waiting for enough bodies from which to pick a panel.

So now, each month, 100 no-shows are sent second-chance letters and alternate dates to appear, signed by a judge. This month, good news: About half showed up or sent legitimate excuses, which maybe has something to do with that please-come-back letter mentioning potential contempt proceedings. (And for the record, bad addresses surely bear some blame for the no-show rate.)

Under the rules, any judge can excuse anyone from jury duty — someone with a legitimate excuse, or, in the most cynical scenario, a golf buddy who doesn't want to be bothered and has a connection to a judge with the power to make that pesky summons go away.

Committee members are considering whether to recommend changes to the rule to put the power in the hands of only the judge on duty for jurors at the time — not just any judge — or other changes, like putting all judicial requests to dismiss someone in writing.

While no one has shown abuse of this particular power, good for them for talking change.