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Flip sides worth hearing

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By JEFF WEBB, Hernando Times Editor of Editorials

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 13, 2002


Last week I bought a 50-something friend a birthday card that fondly reminisced about what passes as the good old days for us baby boomers.

The front of the card had a drawing of a hi-fi and a pair of hands placing a 45 rpm record on the turntable. The text read "Another birthday may feel like flipping your life over to the "B' side. But sometimes the coolest stuff was on the "B' side."

Inside the card came the punch line: "Oh, let's face it. You completely understood the "B' side reference. You're old!"

This column has nothing to do with birthdays or growing old. But in the spirit of remembering that every story has what we used to call a "flip side" that deserves to be heard, I call to your attention two headlines from last week.

Low bail freed suspect before fatal shooting

This story reported that just three days before Jacki "Jack the Ripper" Mulkey and another man forced their way into a Spring Hill home and killed a 24-year-old woman, he had been released from the Hernando County Jail, where he was being held on a probation violation.

Mulkey's freedom of movement was restored by Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink, who rescinded the order that Mulkey be held without bail, and set it at only $300. The prosecutor for the State Attorney's Office concurred with that decision, as did Mulkey's defense lawyer. Tombrink later described his decision as "At the time ... a no-brainer."

Even Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto allowed that Tombrink would have had no way of knowing that Mulkey was destined to participate in such a risk for violent behavior. "These are very difficult situations for judges or prosecutors to be involved in. Any time you cut someone loose there's a potential that they could do something bad," Catto told the Times.

Catto's right. Every time a judge sets an affordable bail there is a chance the defendant will skip town or commit another crime. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, and especially when the worst happens and someone is hurt or killed, there is no shortage of second-guessers around to remind us about the judicial system's revolving door.

It's a reminder that judges and prosecutors cannot predict the future. And there probably is no one in Hernando County more pleased to hear Tombrink and Catto acknowledge that fact than County Judge Peyton Hyslop.

Hyslop has been criticized for years by prosecutors and other judges for lowering bails, earning him an undeserved reputation of being soft on criminals and not caring what they might do after they are freed.

Here's the flip side of the Mulkey story. You can bet that if Hyslop had been the one who set the alleged murderer's bail at only $300, the law-and-order types would have the judge underneath the oak tree on the courthouse lawn and be yelling for more rope.

Maybe Reader's Digest, which has inanely labeled Hyslop one of America's worst judges two years in a row, will give that reasoning a listen. More suitably, maybe it will quiet the prosecutors and judges who have been unforgiving of the unpretentious judge.

Fire district takes bold campaign approach

This story informed readers about an interesting aspect in the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District's campaign to become independent of oversight by the County Commission. Some people, including me, were surprised to see "Yes, for independence" signs planted around fire stations, and bumper stickers on ambulances and fire trucks.

The signs are paid for by a political action committee funded by the firefighters union, and urge voters to approve the referendum that will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. You've probably seen the white-and-red advertisements in other locations around Spring Hill.

It is against state election law for candidates to use public property to promote themselves, but oddly it is not unlawful to use public property to advocate a ballot question or a cause that is in "the public's interest."

Of course, whether independence is in the best interest of taxpayers of the fire district is a matter of opinion.

But here's a flip side to that story: What if the PACs that are supporting a ban on smoking in restaurants, better conditions for pigs, fewer students in classrooms, or any one of the other amendments on the general election ballot, wanted to put up a sign -- or 10 -- at the fire stations?

An even more entertaining scenario would be if a "No to independence" movement demanded equal access to the property their taxes have paid for. Would their message be welcome, and would their signs last?

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