State senator wants judge investigated over controversial contempt case

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A state senator wants the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission to investigate a Palm Beach County circuit judge who sentenced a 21-year-old man to 10 days in jail for missing jury duty.

After Deandre Somerville failed to show up for jury duty in August in a negligence case involving a car accident, Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes found him in contempt and gave Somerville a 10-day jail sentence and one year of probation.

Somerville, a West Palm Beach resident who had no criminal record, said he had overslept.

During a hearing last week, and after a public outcry over the case, Kastrenakes reduced Somerville’s sentence to three months of probation and 30 hours of community service. A day later, the judge rescinded the finding of criminal contempt and the sentence, declaring Somerville was “completely rehabilitated.”

Here is a N.Y. Times story on the case.

On Wednesday, state Sen. Bobby Powell, a Palm Beach County Democrat, filed a complaint against Kastrenakes with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the state panel that investigates judicial misconduct.

In his letter to the commission, Powell said Kastrenakes “acted in an unprecedented manner to unfairly punish one individual for a minor transgression, singling him out as an example solely because of his race.”

At the Oct. 4 hearing, Kastrenakes had cited Somerville’s race as a factor in his original contempt finding. “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 said.

Powell said the judge’s action violated the judicial conduct code and he “engaged in misfeasance in his official duties” as a circuit judge.

“Judge Kastrenakes’s actions in this case were shameful, unjust and a moral stain on our community, which is why I am requesting that the commission immediately investigate this matter and discipline Judge Kastrenakes accordingly,” Powell said in a written statement.

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