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Lawyers for Dale Massad want judge disqualified, saying the former mayor's rights have been violated

Dale Massad signs a document his legal team handed him following a March 14 hearing. The attorneys are, from left, Denis M. deVlaming, Bjorn Brunvand, and Marc Salton. [TAILYR IRVINE   |   Times]
Dale Massad signs a document his legal team handed him following a March 14 hearing. The attorneys are, from left, Denis M. deVlaming, Bjorn Brunvand, and Marc Salton. [TAILYR IRVINE | Times]
Published Mar. 25, 2019

NEW PORT RICHEY — Lawyers for Dale Massad want to disqualify a circuit court judge from two cases against the former Port Richey mayor, jailed on charges of attempted murder, unlicensed practice of medicine and attempted conspiracy.

At the same time, Massad's lawyers have petitioned the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal to quash orders by the judge, saying their client's rights have been violated. They want him released from jail on "reasonable conditions of bail," according to their petition.

In a motion sent to the court Sunday, defense attorneys Bjorn Brunvand and Denis deVlaming cite several reasons for having Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Mary Handsel removed from Massad's cases involving the attempted murder and practicing medicine without a license charges.

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The attorneys say Handsel relied on facts outside a probable cause affidavit when she granted the state's motion to revoke Massad's bail on March 14; speculated that a mayor of Port Richey would have authority over the city's police department even though the department answers to the city manager; demonstrated bias against Massad by saying a motion filed by the defense would halt negotiations with the state; and might treat their client unfairly because of her marriage to a former Pinellas County sheriff's deputy.

Massad "was concerned ... that the court would have a difficult time being fair in his case," Brunvand said in an interview Monday.

The former mayor is accused of shooting two rounds from a handgun toward deputies with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office SWAT team as they entered his Port Richey home in late February.

The deputies were there to help arrest Massad on charges of practicing medicine without a license, the result of a monthslong Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.

Massad was suspended from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis and then resigned.

The position was filled by Port Richey Vice Mayor Terrence Rowe for about a week. Then Rowe was arrested on charges of conspiring with Massad over a recorded jail phone to target a city police officer involved in the charges against Massad.

Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Rowe from office, like Massad before him, but he has not resigned.

In their petition to the district appeals court, Brunvand and deVlaming explore several legal arguments for declaring Massad's detention unlawful.

The lawyers say Handsel made mistakes in keeping Massad held without bail.

They say state evidence in its motion to revoke Massad's bail failed to demonstrate that Massad broke the law in his conversation with Rowe.

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"Nowhere in the probable cause affidavit is Mr. Massad saying or doing anything, even in a cryptic sense, to entice or propose that the current mayor do anything whatsoever to obstruct justice," the petition says.

Even if the recorded phone call showed intent by Rowe to obstruct justice, Massad isn't accused of saying anything in response that would show the two men had agreed to commit a crime, the petition says. Because the court relied on the affidavit when deciding to revoke Massad's bail, it followed a flawed process, the petition says.

In the attempted murder case against Massad, according to the petition, the court erroneously revoked the former mayor's bail because none existed. No bail or conditions for release had been set in that case.

What's more, the petition says, Massad was entitled to a hearing about his bail that would have required the prosecution to back up its charges against him. The court denied him that hearing and violated his rights to "reasonable conditions" for bail.

"Our hope is that the Second DCA is going to say there was no probable cause and he's entitled to a reasonable bond," Brunvand said.

On Tuesday, the City Council will hear from people interested in filling the vacancy left by Massad's departure from the council. The council will appoint a replacement.

Contact Justin Trombly at Follow @JustinTrombly.