Jury duty or jail? Hmm ...

A man says he doesn't like the system anyway, so he walks off and gets 15 days.

Published February 22, 2007

DADE CITY - Daniel Harrell was Juror No. 1 for a day.

After being picked first from the jury pool Monday to hear a civil trial at the Pasco County Courthouse, Harrell, 20, showed up in court the next day with little enthusiasm for his civic duty.

He handed over his juror's badge to Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb's bailiff, saying he didn't want to serve any longer. The bailiff told the judge, who questioned Harrell in the courthouse lobby.

Then Cobb took him into his chambers.

"I tried to talk him out of it," Cobb said Wednesday. "I told him how stupid it was."

He even told Harrell the punishment he had in mind.

But Harrell wasn't budging, the judge said, so Cobb brought him into the courtroom and put the matter on the record.

End result: Harrell of Land O'Lakes was handcuffed and taken into custody to serve a 15-day jail sentence for direct criminal contempt of court. An alternate took his seat on the jury so the trial could move forward.

This marks the second Pasco case this week illustrating the reverence with which court officers view jury service.

At a Tuesday hearing in west Pasco, Circuit Judge W. Lowell Bray Jr. found a business owner in contempt of court for firing an employee who missed a day of work because of jury duty. All-Pro Printing owner Sean Hylton denied the allegation but was fined $500.

Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis, who prosecuted Hylton, called jury service a citizen's "biggest duty during peacetime."

Harrell, who has no criminal record in Florida, didn't provide a clear reason for refusing to serve.

"That's fine with me," Harrell told Cobb after the judge informed him of the sentence - which is days longer than his jury service would have been.

"Because of you all putting me in jail for not, you know, not doing that ... . I don't like the judicial system anyways. So you all do whatever you have to do."

He was booked in the Land O'Lakes jail shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday. He is not eligible for bail.

Cobb said Wednesday that if jurors don't serve, the whole system doesn't work.

"I think the jury system is an extremely important part of the judicial system," he said.

The judge said he once had a juror walk out during a trial, but she changed her mind and came back. In his 30 years as a judge, he has never found another juror in contempt.

The 15-day sentence, he said, was a concession.

"I really thought 30 (days), but I decided to go easy," he said. "I wanted it (to last) more than the trial."

When Cobb imposed the sentence, he told Harrell he has 30 days if he wants to take his cause to an appellate judge. If so, Cobb said he'll appoint a lawyer for him.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at (352) 521-6521 or moorhead@sptimes.com.