Court denies Dunn’s request to delay trial in Jordan Davis murder case

January 22, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Good morning:

Judge Russell Healey yesterday denied the defense motion to continue the trial date in the Michael Dunn case. The trial will commence on Monday, February 3rd.

Judge Healey next considered the media’s motions to release discovery to the public. By media, I refer to The Florida Times-Union, First Coast News and WJXT TV-4 (AKA: the intervenors). They previously petitioned to intervene on behalf of the public seeking the release of discovery that Judge Healey improperly withheld in violation of the Sunshine Law. They obtained an order from the 1st District Court of Appeal last Friday directing Judge Healey to release the evidence no later than this Friday, unless he determines at an evidentiary hearing to be held held no later than today that some of the withheld discovery, such as names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses should be blacked out.

Judge Healey waded into those waters at yesterday’s hearing with both prosecution and defense lamenting the appellate court’s order. Their major complaint was that the release of the discovery this close to trial may prejudice the defense and make it impossible to select a fair and impartial jury.

Of course, if the discovery had been released to the public when it was released to the defense, as required by the Sunshine Law, the late-publication problem would have been avoided.

The primary concern of the prosecution and defense is Dunn’s 740 phone calls from the jail. The Florida Times-Union at Jacksonville.com has the story:

But Corey said the media would still have to pay for the staff time it would take to produce the phone calls. Lawyers for the State Attorney’s Office have said it would take 180 hours of staff time to review the phone calls before they could be released to the public, and the media would have to pay over $6,000 for the staff time it would take to do that.
George Gabel, an attorney representing the Times-Union and First Coast News, said the media shouldn’t have to pay for the calls because the State Attorney’s Office has already reviewed them.

Corey acknowledged that they’d been reviewed, but said her staff had been looking at using them during the criminal trial, and had not reviewed them for release to the public.

Assistant State Attorney Lisa DiFranza said the office would have to review the phone calls again to redact anything that could be seen as a confession on Dunn’s part, and would also have to take any social security numbers or bank numbers that might come up during those calls because public records law prohibit those things from being released to the public.
Prosecutors estimated there were about 740 phone calls made by Dunn since he was in prison. Corey said about 10 of those calls are being looked at by her office to use against Dunn during his criminal trial.

Corey did not volunteer what was said in those phone calls.

Judge Healey said he would issue an order later.

Given the appellate court’s order, I believe Judge Healey has no choice. He has to order the release of the recordings by Friday at the close of business, so Angela Corey better git ‘er done.

I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to reading transcripts of those calls.


Florida Court of Appeal again orders trial judge to release evidence to public in Michael Dunn case

January 18, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Good morning:

Storm clouds brewing in the Michael Dunn case.

Yesterday, the 1st District Court of Appeal in Florida ordered Judge Russell Healey to comply with its earlier order to release discovery to the public and to hold a hearing no later than Wednesday of next week to do it.

On December 19th, I wrote about the earlier order.

Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee reversed Judge Russell Healey’s order that prohibited the release of evidence to the public for a period of 30 days after the prosecution discloses it to the defense. The Court held that Judge Healey’s order violated Florida’s Sunshine Law that requires the prosecution to immediately release the evidence to the public after it releases it to the defense.

Judge Healey issued the order after he experienced a Yikes! moment while watching a local television news report about racist letters that Dunn had written in jail.

I wrote about the letters on October 27th in Let’s play the who-said-this game.

Judge Healey was concerned about the possible impact the letters might have on jury selection and Dunn’s right to a fair and impartial jury. He decided to impose the 30-day delay to give him an opportunity to preview the discovery and decide whether to release it.

/snip/

Judge Healey’s dilemma was how can we seat a fair and impartial jury now that everyone knows that Michael Dunn, a middle aged white guy, is an unrepentant racist who dares “to not be a victim” of four unarmed black teenagers sitting in a parked SUV with the music turned up. That he’s predisposed to “kill these (expletive) idiots” would appear to lessen the prosecution’s burden to prove premeditation to convict Dunn of murder one or to prove Dunn acted with a depraved mind indifferent to human life to convict him of murder two.

Hence, the Yikes moment.

However, as I also mentioned,

The problem is the jury will get to see them since the letters are relevant and admissible pursuant to Evidence Rule 404(b) to prove Dunn’s intent when he pulled the trigger and that he did not shoot due to a mistake he made about the situation or accidentally shoot at the teenagers. The letters also are admissible under Evidence Rule 801(d)(2) as admissions by a party opponent.

Therefore, there was no good reason for Judge Healey to have created an exception to the Sunshine Law, which requires the simultaneous release of the discovery to the public when it is released to the defense. Expressed another way, the proper publication of the letters pursuant to the law could not serve as a justification to create a new 30-day-review rule.

The news media appealed Judge Healey’s order creating the new exception to the law and the appellate court said, Nyet! Thou shalt follow the law.

Nothing happened, however, so the news media returned to the appellate court and asked it to spank the naughty judge, which it did.

The Florida attorney general’s office, which represents Angela Corey’s office on appeals, has asked to continue the hearing to Friday.

Meanwhile, Dunn’s attorney, Cory Strolla, wants a continuance. He claims he needs more time to get ready for trial. Angela Corey objects to the continuance.

I doubt Judge Healey will grant the continuance because the defense has had more than one year to get ready and it has waited too long to ask for more time. The trial, which is scheduled to start two weeks from Monday, will be a big event. The Florida Times-Union @ Jacksonville.com explains:

The delays mean further burdens on others awaiting some resolution.

Lucia McBath, who lives near Atlanta and is the mother of Jordan Davis, has rented a house in Jacksonville for all of February in anticipation of the trial. Attorney John Phillips, who represents McBath and Jordan’s father, Ron Davis, said they would have no comment on Friday’s events.

Police and media also are well into preparations for a trial that is expected to attract nationwide attention. An area near the courthouse will be set up as a media city, and police will be issuing daily credentials to attend. Courthouse personnel have said they will restrict where the media can conduct interviews.

Dunn will be the first high-profile trial at the new Duval County Courthouse. Unless plea deals are made, he will quickly be followed by Marissa Alexander and Donald James Smith, both also expected to generate national attention.

We certainly will be paying attention.

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This is our 857th post in 26 months. We had 422 visitors yesterday and zero donations.

Fred


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