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Fla. state senator seeks ouster of judge who sent juror to jail for oversleeping

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 10/10/2019 By Skyler Swisher, Sun Sentinel
a man wearing a suit and tie: Deandre Somerville speaks to the media outside court after serving 10 days in jail for missing jury duty at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on Friday October 4, 2019. © RICHARD GRAULICH/Palm Beach Post/TNS Deandre Somerville speaks to the media outside court after serving 10 days in jail for missing jury duty at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on Friday October 4, 2019.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A Palm Beach County judge who sent a man with no criminal record to jail for 10 days because he overslept and missed jury duty is now facing a complaint filed by a state senator.

State Sen. Bobby Powell, a West Palm Beach Democrat, said he wants the Florida Supreme Court to remove Judge John S. Kastrenakes from his post.

Powell filed a complaint with the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, which is charged with investigating allegations of judicial misconduct and making disciplinary recommendations to the state Supreme Court.

“If he is not going to be fair as a judge, he does not need to be there,” Powell said Wednesday.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami has also called on Kastrenakes to step down, tweeting that the sentence he delivered represented “an outrageous abuse of power.”

Kastrenakes sentenced Deandre Somerville, a 21-year-old college student, to serve 10 days in jail, complete one year of probation, perform 150 hours of community service, write an apology letter and pay $223 in court costs.

The West Palm Beach man reported for jury duty Aug. 20, and he was selected to serve on a panel for a civil trial in an auto negligence case.

But he was a no-show the following day, delaying the start of the trial by 45 minutes, before the proceedings continued without him. Called to a hearing Sept. 20, Somerville was found guilty of criminal contempt, a misdemeanor, and was immediately placed into custody. He was released Sept. 29.

Somerville apologized and told the judge he should have notified the court that he had overslept. After a national backlash, Kastrenakes vacated the rest of Somerville’s sentence.

Powell said he’s known Somerville and his family for more than a decade, and Somerville never should have been sent to jail.

“I have never seen this kid so much as raise his voice or be angry,” Powell said. “He has always been a respectful young man. He is not type of person you would expect to go to jail, especially for oversleeping. This judge’s actions were excessive.”

Kastrenakes did not immediately return a message left at his office Wednesday seeking comment. At an Oct. 4 court hearing, Kastrenakes said Somerville committed a serious violation by shirking his responsibility.

“He made the decision himself that it wasn’t important for him to come back to court, that it wasn’t serious, and it wasn’t something that he needed to do,” Kastrenakes said. “That is exactly the antithesis of honorable service on a jury.”

He also said Somerville was needed for diversity reasons. “He was the only African American on the jury, representing a cross-section of the community, and he decided on his own that it wasn’t worth his time,” the judge explained.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission is charged with investigating allegation of misconduct by Florida state judges. The commission can recommend disciplinary action spanning from a private reprimand to removal from office.

In a letter to the commission, Powell accused the judge of violating his duties by acting in “an unprecedented manner to unfairly punish one individual for a minor transgression, singling him out as an example solely because of his race.”

He also wrote the judge violated Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct by rescinding the sentence. The code states that judges “shall not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.”

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Kastrenakes, a federal prosecutor, to his post in 2009.

Kastrenakes was elected to a six-year term without opposition in 2010 and was re-elected in 2016 again without an opponent.

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©2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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