Trials & Litigation

Fla. Judge Threatens to Jail Lawyers re Any Further Delay in Trial of Child-Murder Case

A frustrated Florida judge had a former assistant public defender appear before him Wednesday in jeans and a T-shirt after sending out an emergency request for an additional update on the status of a toddler-murder case that had been scheduled to go to trial Monday of next week.

Unbeknownst to Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe until today, defendant Justin Garwacki, 28, had lost his defense counsel, Greg Hill, who resigned from the PD’s office Dec. 26 in order to take a law school job at Arizona State University after traveling to China to get married. Although he had hoped to stay on the job a few weeks longer while winding up his cases, Hill told the judge, he was terminated on the spot as soon as he said he was resigning, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

“My computer access and emails were blocked. I was effectively shut down,” said Hill. He had been packing his belongings when he got word that Tharpe wanted him in court.

Hill said he had expected to be ready for trial on Jan. 7 until he learned in December that a key witness would not be available, and he apologized for not notifying the court of the witness issue earlier.

Tharpe, who said he had been worrying about the complexities of the first-degree murder case against Garwacki and his girlfriend, Kara O’Connell, 23, set a Jan. 10 hearing to determine when the couple’s Jan. 7 trial could be rescheduled. They are accused in the August 2010 beating death of Garwacki’s son, John Taylor Baxley, who prosecutors say also suffered prior child abuse.

“Because the stakes are so high in this division, I don’t baby lawyers,” the judge said in court today, threatening severe sanctions if the trial is delayed again without very good reason.

“The next time, I’m going to contact the Florida Bar and, if I think the violation was intentional, I’m going to put a lawyer in jail.”

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