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Efficiency is a judge's specialty

The county plans to hire two judges to ease a heavy workload, but Judge Jack Springstead is known for his speed in the courtroom.

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published July 6, 2005


[Times photo: Keri Wiginton]
On Tuesday, a 99-page docket averaging two defendants per page awaited Judge Springstead when he came to work. His dockets are typically 30 to 40 pages long, but he got through the arraignments Tuesday just after 6 p.m.

BROOKSVILLE - Early on Tuesday, a bit after 8 a.m., Circuit Judge Jack Springstead was walking through the lobby of the Hernando County Government Center, and the secretary sitting at the reception desk said: Hi there. How are you? Vacation was good?

"Oh, yeah," Springstead said. "Oh, yeah."

But after three weeks of fishing and hiking and doing a whole lot of nothing much in Colorado Springs, Colo., vacation was O-V-E-R.

Waiting for him Tuesday: a docket, almost all arraignments, 99 pages thick.

"I don't believe I've ever done an arraignment docket this heavy," he said in his office some time before 8:30. "If we go straight, if we really work it, we'll be through by 2:30.

"Straight," he said again.

"That means no lunch.

"Welcome back," he joked.

Big dockets, of course, are not new in the courts of this growing county. Every once in a while, a 100-pager pops up, and maybe even up to 120 or 125. County Judge Don Scaglione has some hefty dockets, too, and that's part of the reason two new judges - a second county judge and another circuit judge - are slated to come on later this year.

"We are busy," criminal clerk Barbara Fisher said Tuesday.

And all the judges' dockets depend on a lot of things: How many people are getting arrested? For what? How long are the cases dragging on?

Springstead, who handles almost all of Hernando's felonies, typically has arraignment dockets 30 to 40 pages long, he said. Not 99.

When a judge goes on vacation, though, so does his docket.

That leads to a buildup of cases.

On Tuesday, then, just before the 9 a.m. starting time, the sign in front of the metal detector outside Courtroom D read, in black marker on white, easel-sized paper: DEFENDANTS AND VICTIMS ONLY.

People wanted in.

"It's my fiancee."

"I'm here to support my brother."

"I need to talk to my son for just one sec. I'll come right back out."

The deputies did their jobs.

"Right now just defendants and victims."

"Because it's a huge docket."

"Because the court holds only so many people."

"If I let you in, everyone else is going to crowd the door, and I can't do that."

Inside, it was time to begin.

"All rise . . . .

"The honorable Judge Jack Springstead presiding."

"First case," Springstead said.

The charge: burglary. The public defender: "We'd like to enter a plea of not guilty." The pretrial: set for Aug. 5.

"Next case," Springstead said.

Different name. Different charge. Same result: Aug. 5.

"Next case."

And so it began.

Those were the quick ones. In Tuesday's 99-page docket, with an average of two defendants to a page, some just entered a not-guilty plea and got a pretrial date. Some took their punishment - probation, community control, house arrest - and went home. Others went to the county jail. Or the state prison.

From Richard Allen Alvarez to Andrea L. Young, there were two Clarkes, two Barretts, two Wellses, two Stewarts. There was a McGrantham, a McHugh and a McKean, a Pearce and a Pierce, a Hanshaw and a Henshaw.

There was allegedly a blind burglar.

The Williamson boys, Derek and Blake, 18 years old, identical twins, were arraigned in identical crimes: "cultivation of cannabis."

Around and around: The defendants out on parole or bail came in from the benches. Those who came from jail arrived, one by one, appearing from the door on the side of the courtroom dressed in handcuffs, ankle chains, khaki-colored jumpsuits and flimsy, standard-issue sandals.

Grand theft auto.

"Next case."

Possession of cocaine.

"Next case."

Felony fleeing.

"Next case."

Springstead's got a rep.

"He puts them through," said Karen Nicolai, clerk of the circuit court.

Added court clerk supervisor Bonnie Andrian: "He just keeps them moving. A docket like (this) would take any other judge two days. But he's that quick.

"He catches up very quickly. It takes him just a day."

A long day.

"Most judges take lunch," Nicolai said.

Not Springstead.

Lonnie Edward Griffin, a 44-year-old man from Dade City with long hair and a beard, got caught driving with a suspended license, and he entered Courtroom D at 12:22 p.m. He was there for violation of community control. And he was ready to fess up.

Springstead asked if he wanted a public defender.

No need, Griffin said cheerfully: "I'm ready to get this show over with." He wanted eight months in the Hernando County Jail, he said. Springstead gave him what he wanted.

"Do you understand the sentence?"

"Yes, sir."

"Is that the sentence you expected?"

"That's it."

"Good luck to you."

"Yes, sir," Griffin said, "and you have a good day."

"Next case."

As lunchtime became early afternoon and early afternoon became midafternoon, one woman sat in the front row eating M&Ms in between naps. Another woman read a yellow-covered paperback, When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. One woman on the docket fell sound asleep and didn't seem to be all that awake at the podium, either.

"She just woke up, Judge," public defender David Bauer said.

Most everyone was sleepy.

A defendant was asked to raise his right hand.

"Your other right hand," Springstead said.

At some point, during minibreaks when prosecutors and public defenders were busy putting together plea agreements, the judge started calling the cases of those out on bail.

"There can't be that many left," Springstead said out loud. "How many of y'all have cases?"

On the benches, hands went up.

"One, two, three . . . ," Springstead started to count. "Six, seven, eight."

And another bunch in handcuffs was on the way.

That 2:30 prediction?

Court was still going at 4. And 5. And 6.

The 99-page docket went until 6:10 p.m.

Thursday's docket is 47 pages long. Friday's is 63.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.

[Last modified July 6, 2005, 12:00:18]


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