Making a Difficult Call

Sarasota Circuit Judge Harry Rapkin has received death threats and criticism from political leaders for not jailing Joseph Smith before he allegedly kidnapped and murdered 11-year-old Carlie Brucia, but another judge says that judges like Rapkin are too often asked to take drastic action with too little information.

Receiving a stack of affidavits requesting that probation be revoked is a daily occurrence for judges.

Judge Tom Bateman says the documents asking him to lock someone up are often incomplete or contain conflicting information.

"They are saying that it's a violation for failure to pay, failure to pay yet cost of supervision they show complying the affidavits are often inadequate," says Circuit Judge Tom Bateman.

So when that happens, his honor does what Sarasota Circuit Judge Harry Rapkin has been criticized for, he puts a sticky note on the paperwork telling probation officers to fix the flaws in their request.

The judge is so unhappy with the number of poorly prepared affidavits that are making it to his desk that he is threatening to hold hearings in every case, and then access court charges against the Dept. of Corrections when he has to dismiss those cases.

The Department of Corrections has asked the judge not to start holding hearings until they can sort out the problem, and while Judge Bateman wouldn't use the words passing the buck, he does say that probation officers already have the authority to take someone deemed dangerous off the streets.

"They can go arrest without a warrant but they don't exercise that discretion very often," adds Circuit Judge Bateman.

Judge Bateman is also talking to other judges who face the same problems because if the problem is happening in the shadow of the state capitol, it's happening everywhere.

The dept of corrections was asked for a response to the judges’ claims and did not return our calls. Currently fewer than 2,600 probation officers supervise more than 152,000 probationers.