Hurricane Irma: Courts reopen after case, judge selection delays


Several sentencings in high-profile cases and the selection process to replace two circuit judges have all been postponed by Hurricane Irma, even as business resumed Wednesday at a Palm Beach County satellite courthouse.

The north Palm Beach County courthouse in Palm Beach Gardens reopened Wednesday after being closed for a total of four business days because of the storm, whose wide bands reached the area Sunday.

RELATED: The Palm Beach Post’s complete coverage of Hurricane Irma

Non-jury cases will resume Thursday at the main county courthouse in West Palm Beach and the branch courthouses in Delray Beach and Belle Glade when those courthouses reopen to the public, but the 15th Circuit State Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices have already reopened.

Jury duty, however, is cancelled for the remainder of this week and will resume on Monday. Prospective jurors can call the court hotline at 561-355-6744.

The federal courthouse in West Palm Beach will reopen on Monday.

The closings have already delayed hundreds of cases in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, including the sentencing of 50-year-old Rodney Clark, convicted last month of the 1987 murder of 27-year-old Dana Fader.

A jury last week had begun hearing testimony in a hearing to decide whether they would recommend a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty for Clark. But after a day of testimony, Circuit Judge Charles Burton told the panel that the courthouse would be closing in anticipation of the storm and asked them to come back Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning however, a voicemail recording from his judicial assistant asked all jurors to return to court on Monday, Sept. 18 for the continuation of the hearing.

The timing, in turn, makes the scheduled start of another death penalty case doubtful. Jury selection was supposed to begin this Friday in the first-degree murder and child abuse trial of Kimberly Lucas, the Jupiter woman charged with the May 2014 drowning death of the 2-year-old daughter she shared with her former partner. Lucas is also charged with trying to kill their 10-year-old son by drugging him with Alprazolam and telling him “it would help make him grow.”

Both Clark and Lucas are represented by Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout and one of her top assistant public defenders, Elizabeth Ramsey. And Circuit Judge Charles Burton is presiding over both cases. Because the judge and attorneys can’t handle two trials at once, it appears the Lucas case will be delayed until Clark’s sentencing hearing is done.

Burton on Wednesday was also supposed to sentence Paul Maida, a Boca Raton man convicted in July of leaving the scene of an accident involving a death and other charges in the 2014 crash that killed George Morreale. Maida faces up to 26 years in prison. As of Wednesday afternoon, no new sentencing date had been set for Maida.

Also on Wednesday, the local judicial nominating commission extended by three days the deadline for applicants to turn in paperwork in hopes of replacing resigned judges Richard Oftedal and James T. Ferrara. The applications had been due on this coming Monday, but applicants now have until 10 a.m. on Sept. 21. The group will send its top picks to Gov. Rick Scott, who will make the final selections.

Tuesday also was supposed to mark the sentencing hearing for Donna Horwitz for her second conviction in the shooting death of her estranged husband, Lanny Horwitz. But the hearing was cancelled, and as of Wednesday no new hearing date had been set.




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