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Court is not in recess

It just looks like it. Besides, it's crowded inside and beautiful outside.

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published March 27, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Circuit Judge Linda Babb, third from the left, deals with a space crunch at the courthouse in Dade City.

DADE CITY - The announcement rang through the courthouse halls midmorning.

"Due to lack of courtroom space," a bailiff said through the intercom, "we're holding court in the smoking area."

Circuit Judge Linda Babb, followed by a trail of attorneys, clerks and a dozen or so defendants, paraded out to the courtyard of the Pasco County Courthouse. They sat facing one another on half-circle concrete planters.

It was bright and breezy and warm.

All four courtrooms in the Dade City courthouse were occupied by other judges Monday morning. Crowded dockets mean a constant battle for courtroom space.

Babb could have seen the defendants one by one in her chambers. But this was drug court, an intervention program that emphasizes rehabilitation over jail. It's about face time and accountability. It has an air of group therapy.

So there they gathered, squinting against the sun like college students having class outside. The stenographer fought with the little trail of paper that kept trying to blow away. The prosecutor, with no cherry table before him, scribbled in files balanced in his lap. The defendants heard the judge run down her usual list of instructions, especially: Get a job. Exercise.

"Anyone else know where marijuana gets stored in the body?" Babb asked. She was sans robe, legs bare, wearing a lavender top and polka dot skirt.

Someone mumbled "fat cells."

The judge's voice deepened: "In the fat."

Mike James reclined on the concrete, rested his eyes and soaked up the sun. He wore baggy jeans, black Nikes, dreadlocks in his hair. After a few minutes, he sat up and lit a cigarette.

The judge sent him inside for a drug test. The result: positive for marijuana, though James swore he hadn't smoked it in weeks. Go to a group meeting tonight, Babb ordered.

Over the courthouse walls, just a few yards away, a train approached. It announced itself with blaring whistle blows, each one growing louder.

Babb paused, waiting for it to pass.

Silence fell again. "I think it's safe," the judge said.

The train honked three more times.

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

About the series

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Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, please contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or (727)892-292

[Last modified March 27, 2007, 01:10:50]


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