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Juror booted for being too inquisitive

By SUE CARLTON and AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2001


Juror Charlotte Pavlos just wanted some answers.

This week, as the aggravated assault and kidnapping case against William Skinner unfolded in court before her, she got the stories from state witnesses. But she had questions. So she did what any normal, curious person might do.

She asked.

While court was in session, Pavlos penned two queries on a piece of paper, folded it and tried to pass it to the prosecutor. It never got that far. Circuit Judge Barbara Fleischer intercepted the note and later took Pavlos aside to explain that jurors can't do that. They must sit in silence, hearing only what is admitted as evidence.

The judge dismissed Pavlos and seated an alternate juror in her place to weigh the defendant's fate.

Skinner was accused of kidnapping his wife by forcing her into his car, tying her up and putting a gun to her head. In her note, Pavlos wanted the prosecutor to ask a witness what type of person Skinner was. She also wanted to know where Skinner and his wife worked.

A postscript: Other jurors apparently had questions, too. They found Skinner not guilty.

HOW'S THIS FOR TIMING? Even as questions loom about her handling of the Aisenberg case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachelle DesVaux Bedke won a prestigious award for prosecutorial integrity.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General's Integrity Award went to Bedke and paralegal specialist Madeline Tejera for their work on deadbeat parents, which led to 16 successful prosecutions, nine pending indictments and $1-million ordered in outstanding child support.

This, just weeks after the biggest case of Bedke's career imploded in high-profile fireworks.

In a blistering report, a federal judge blasted investigators and prosecutors regarding surveillance tapes made inside Steven and Marlene Aisenberg's Valrico home after the mysterious disappearance of their baby daughter. The taped evidence was inaudible and contained nothing to suggest the couple had anything to do with what happened to Sabrina. After the charges were thrown out, local legal observers wondered aloud why the Justice Department had not opened an investigation into whether Bedke and fellow prosecutor Stephen Kunz misled the grand jury that indicted the Aisenbergs.

Making this recent award a tad ironic.

LONG LIVE THE CHIEF: Many have wondered what will happen when longtime reigning Chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez becomes merely Mr. Alvarez. Last week we may have gotten a glimpse.

Even after Alvarez announced his resignation, his presence has been felt in the selection of his replacement.

Several judges wanted Circuit Judge Manuel Menendez Jr., seemingly Alvarez's heir apparent, to sign off on a statement of principles about how the next chief should run things. Their ideas were hardly controversial: support for open records, a vote on term limits for the chief judge position and a committee to make the chief's decisions more inclusive. Judges thought the gesture would unify everyone behind one candidate in a courthouse that seemed to need solidarity badly.

But Alvarez apparently found the request offensive, several judges said. A day or two later, an editorial appeared in the Tampa Tribune lambasting the suggestion. Then Menendez told reporters he wouldn't sign the document, but he wouldn't say the request disturbed him either.

So much for a new day at the courthouse.

- Times staff writers David Karp and Graham Brink contributed to this report. Sue Carlton can be reached at 226-3346 or carlton@sptimes.com. Amy Herdy can be reached at 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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