Senator Files Complaint Against Judge who Sentenced Man to 10 days in jail for Missing Jury Duty
|thenorthstar||Oct 15, 2019|
Senator Bobby Powell told ABC News that he filed a formal complaint against Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John S. Kastrenakes after the judge sentenced Deandre Somerville, 21, to 10 days in jail for accidentally oversleeping and missing jury duty. The senator told the news station that Kastrenakes is “not qualified to make a fair and impartial decision.”
"The thought that a judge would sentence a young man who had no previous history or incident with law enforcement to jail time, I was outraged," Powell told ABC News. "I know him, I know this young man for many, many years. When I saw his picture on the front page of the local paper, I was very much not only hurt and disappointed but heartbroken. I'm at a loss for words about how I felt."
Somerville, who lives with his grandparents in West Palm Beach, previously told WPTV that in August, he was sworn into a civil case as a juror. When he had to appear for trial the following day, he said he overslept and made the mistake of not calling the jury office to let them know what had happened.
“I should have called,” Somerville previously told NBC News. “But I was kind of nervous. I also went online to look up what could really happen, and I didn’t really see too much there…. [It looked like] nobody actually ever really went to jail for it.”
Judge Kastrenakes summoned the 21-year-old to court, and the young man apologized. Despite his apology, Kastrenakes found Somerville, who had no previous criminal record, in criminal contempt of court. Court records stated that the court office tried to contact the 21-year-old and the trial was delayed for 45 minutes.
“When a juror is selected and sworn, the administration of justice in this courthouse depends on you following the orders of the court,” Kastrenakes said, according to the court records.
Not only did Somerville serve 10 days in jail, but he was placed on probation for a year. He was also ordered to complete 150 hours of community service, to pay a fee of $223, and to write an apology to the court. Somerville told NBC News that his time in prison was “traumatic.” In his apology letter, the 21-year-old said his decision to not appear in court was “immature.”
“This was an immature decision that I made and I paid for with my freedom,” the letter obtained by NBC News read. “I am extremely sorry for my actions. I also sincerely apologize for delaying the trial by 45 minutes and not being considerate of other people’s time.”
After Somerville’s story gained national attention, Kastrenakes rescinded the probation order and cleared the conviction from the 21-year-old’s record, The Washington Post previously reported.
Powell told ABC News that he filed his complaint with the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission. He told the news station that everyone makes mistakes and called Sommerville a “good young man.”
"We've all made mistakes. You would think, 'OK, if I go to court, the judge sees me in court,' what's the worse thing you think could happen? When Deandre went back to court he had on his work uniform, we thought the judge would see he is working and see he is a good young man," Powell told the news station.
The senator told ABC News he has heard several complaints about Kasternakes from other individuals and would like to see him removed from the bench. Chief Judge Krista Marx told WTSP in a statement that she does "not have the authority to review the legality of the rulings made by each individual judge" and that is a decision for the appellate court.
"What I would like to see is Judge Kasternakes removed from the bench," Powell told ABC News. "He has indicated to me through this decision that he is not qualified to make a fair and impartial decision."
Other politicians have spoken out about the unfairness of Kasternake’s decision to sentence Sommerville to jail. In a statement on Twitter on October 10, Florida Representative Lois Frankel called the 21-year-old a “terrific young man who had led a respectful, law-abiding life.”
“We should all be respectful of the judicial system. With that said, in my opinion the punishment was too severe and unfair,” Frankel previously wrote.
About the Author
Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.