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Employer guilty in jury duty firing case

The judge rules the business owner was guilty of contempt of court and fines him.

By JAMAL THALJI
Published February 20, 2007


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NEW PORT RICHEY — When Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis stands up in a courtroom, it’s to prosecute some of Pasco’s most notorious crimes.

But what brought him to court Tuesday is something he takes as seriously as any homicide:  a case of jury duty.
David Davidson was summoned Nov. 27 to do his duty. He missed work at All-Pro Printing.

He was fired the next day.

Was it because he showed up for jury duty?

His employer said no.

The state said yes.

And to prove it, Halkitis prosecuted this minor case of contempt of court himself, on behalf of the citizens of Florida.

“Their biggest duty during peacetime is to sit as a juror,” he said.

***

Here’s the case against All-Pro Printing owner Sean Hylton:

Davidson was hired Sept. 6. He passed the probationary period. He qualified for insurance. He never had a bad performance review. He was never counseled for being tardy or missing work, which he did, whenever his 2-year-old daughter got sick.

“It’s not an issue if your daughter is sick,” Davidson said Hylton told him. “Family comes first.”

Davidson’s first jury summons was for Oct. 25, only he showed up in shorts, a violation of the court’s dress code. He was told he would be called back soon. Davidson said he told this to his supervisors, and to Hylton.

But after his second summons, when Davidson came back to work Nov. 28, Hylton was angry.

“I no longer have need for your services,” Davidson said the owner told him. “Goodbye.”

***

Here’s the case for Hylton:

Davidson was far from an ideal employee, Hylton’s attorney Alan Scott Miller said. He was only on-time for 10 of 48 days at All-Pro, missed four of his last 34 days and was always late. He was going to be evaluated after six months, not before.

Hylton testified he didn’t know why Davidson missed work Nov. 27 until after he fired him, but that’s not why he canned him.

“Habitual tardiness and absenteeism” is why, Hylton said.

***

Circuit Judge W. Lowell Bray Jr. decided Davidson wasn’t a “perfect employee” but management never warned him. Hylton might not have learned about the jury summons before firing Davidson. But he learned of it minutes later, Bray said, and “took no corrective action.”

Bray found the owner guilty of contempt of court.

The penance: a reduced fine of $500, because Miller said this won’t happen again.

Halkitis said he has never seen a case like this in his 30 years: “This sends a message about how important jury duty is.”

Davidson has a new job. But he didn’t get seated on a jury Nov. 27. He never got to be a juror.

[Last modified February 20, 2007, 21:26:18]


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