Defense attorney: judge's conduct 'completely illegal'
SANFORD - Circuit Judge John Galluzzo did the unexpected on Wednesday: He barged into a hearing being conducted by another judge, took control, told a dozen criminal defense attorneys that their clients would not get a chance to argue for bail and then left.
"Have a good afternoon," he told them. "I've made my ruling."
Defense attorneys were outraged. Their clients were being held without bond - some had already been in jail more than 24 hours - and would spend another night behind bars.
Galluzzo, a seven-year veteran of the bench from Oviedo, made the drop-in appearance in a big, messy, complicated case: that of Allied Veterans of the World, a non-profit company that Florida prosecutors allege served as a front for illegal casinos.
What Galluzzo did, attorneys for defendants in that case argued, was illegal and a violation of one of their clients' most basic constitutional rights: the right to a hearing on whether their detention is lawful.
"What happened in this courtroom was completely illegal," said defense attorney Mitchell A. Stone of Jacksonville. "My client has been in custody for 30 hours.This is not fair."
Said Orlando defense attorney Mark NeJame, "It's frightening that it's happening, that it's happening in this county."
State agents and local police officers began a huge round-up in the Allied Veterans case Tuesday, targeting 57 suspects, many accused of racketeering, money laundering and operating illegal gaming houses. They seized millions in bank accounts and property, including luxury cars and boats.
Many of the suspects wound up in the Seminole County Jail.
On Wednesday, 15 appeared before Seminole County Judge James Dekleva - elected to the bench just two months ago - for their first appearance.
That's a hearing at which a judge typically determines whether there is enough evidence to sustain a suspect's arrest and, if so, set bond. Those hearings were underway with a dozen high-powered lawyers from the Orlando area and Jacksonville crowded into a jail courtroom on behalf of Allied Veterans defendants.
One of the investigation's chief targets, Allied Veterans' attorney, 49-year-old Kelly Mathis of Jacksonville, was before Dekleva, who was listening to defense attorneys Stone and Robert Fisher of Altamonte Springs argue that Mathis should be released without having to post any bond.
That's when Galluzzo walked into the courtroom from a side door.
He had earlier signed the arrest warrants for Mathis and his co-defendants and included a note in each, saying that they should be held without bond.
"Hold on, hold on," Galluzzo said as he stepped into the courtroom. "Mr. Dekleva, I'm going to take over. Gentlemen, you will set these hearings before Judge Lester. He's available on Friday. That's the last we're going to hear about this today. Have a good afternoon."
Several defense attorneys then piped up, and Fisher tried to continue. "No disrespect, judge, no disrespect to the court." Galluzzo cut him off.
"Mr. Fisher, I've made my ruling. Gentlemen, take it up with Judge Lester."
Galluzzo then walked out.
Lester is the judge assigned to oversee the cases and handle their trials. On Friday, he held a series of bond hearings. He reduced Mathis' bond from $1 million to $200,000.
Mathis was locked up 72 hours before being allowed to appear before a judge willing to listen to an argument about bond, said Stone.
"What happened on Wednesday, I've never seen it before," Stone said.
Galluzzo would not answer questions on Friday about what he did.
The circuit's chief judge, Allan Dickey said, "He did what he did. He did what he thought was the right thing to do. There's really nothing I can do about it, if I wanted to."
Dickey said he and Galluzzo had exchanged email about it but expected nothing more to happen.