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Sheriff's a no-show, so case is dismissed

Sheriff Bob White says he never received a subpoena to appear in court on a traffic case. The agency that serves the subpoenas? Um, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

By JAMAL THALJI
Published September 28, 2006


NEW PORT RICHEY - Randall Kernan was cited for speeding on May 13. He showed up for traffic court on Sept. 20 to fight the charge. But the case was dismissed because the lawman who wrote the citation didn't show up to testify.

The missing lawman? Sheriff Bob White.

"He tells me he did not receive this particular subpoena," agency spokesman Doug Tobin said Wednesday.

A subpoena is a command to appear in court. What agency is supposed to serve subpoenas?

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

So, to sum up: The Sheriff's Office failed to serve a subpoena on its own sheriff.

But don't blame them, said Tobin, who pointed the finger at Clerk of the Circuit Court Jed Pittman's office. He said the clerk's office issued a faulty subpoena to begin with.

The document commands "Dep. White" - badge No. 2121 - to appear Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. in Courtroom D of the West Pasco Judicial Center.

"The information from the court is incomplete," Tobin said. "It says 'Deputy White.' We don't have a 'Deputy White.' "

That's not quite how the clerk's office sees it. It said the subpoena was sent to the right agency, White's last name was on it, and so was his badge number: 2121.

"I feel we followed our established procedures here," said director of court services Rosalyn Fenton. "The only thing I can say is we did not include the (first) initials ... but we did use the badge number, we refer to White and we (used) the phrase 'Deputy.' "

Not so fast, Tobin said. That last part might have tripped up a clerk at the Sheriff's Office. There is no "Deputy White." But there used to be one: Deputy Jesse White. He no longer works there and now lives in Hernando County. He didn't get served either, Tobin said, because the agency doesn't serve subpoenas to ex-deputies.

Why is this newsworthy? Because the sheriff pulled Kernan over and wrote him a ticket - but let the 45-year-old Hudson man with the long criminal record go without running a computer check on his driver's license. If the sheriff had followed department policy, he would have discovered that records showed Kernan's license was suspended.

When the sheriff found out later, he had Kernan's license confiscated. But Kernan also won that case in traffic court Sept. 20, providing proof his license was, in fact, valid.

So who's to blame for this mess? There's probably a little bit to go around to both agencies.

Tobin said all official correspondence, including subpoenas, for the sheriff should be addressed to "Sheriff Robert White." So a subpoena that says "Dep. White" isn't going to get anywhere. But the right badge number was on there, so the spokesman said next time, the agency will try to get it right.

"We're looking at ways we can flag that in the future," Tobin said, "so if there is a discrepancy in the court document we can pick that up in the future."

And Fenton said that when typing the subpoena, a clerk probably should have used the title of the person who wrote the citation - although in this case, the clerk might not have been able to read it.

White wrote his signature and badge number at the bottom of the ticket, and also scrawled the word "sheriff." But Fenton said she wasn't sure what the scrawling said - and maybe the clerk didn't know, either.

"Normally we would pick up on that. I don't know why that is missed here," she said. "But it does have the correct badge number."

And, Fenton added, there might have been this problem: "I'm sure the deputy clerk processing this (subpoena) did not even realize that it was the sheriff himself."

[Last modified September 27, 2006, 22:51:20]


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