State Sen. Bobby Powell Jr. wants a judge investigated after a 21-year-old with no criminal record was sentenced to 10 days in jail for missing jury duty.
Deandre Somerville, a West Palm Beach resident, was selected to serve on a jury on Aug. 21. But he says he overslept his alarm and did not call in to explain his absence.
That led to Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes sentencing Somerville to jail time, probation and community service for contempt of court.
Kastrenakes has since cleared Somerville’s record after the sentence was served. But Powell argues race was a factor in the judge’s decision. Somerville is black; Kastrenakes is white.
“Judge Kastrenakes acted in an unprecedented manner to unfairly punish one individual for a minor transgression, singling him out as an example solely because of his race,” Powell wrote in a letter to the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC).
“The judge later rescinded his original punishment after succumbing to public scrutiny,” he added. “According to Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice and shall not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.
“Judge Kastrenakes has evidently violated the Code of the Judicial Conduct and has engaged in misfeasance in his official duties as a 15th Judicial Circuit Court judge.”
Wednesday, Powell filed a complaint with the JQC, asking the panel to assess whether Kastrenakes violated the Code.
“Judge Kastrenakes’s actions in this case were shameful, unjust and a moral stain on our community, which is why I am requesting that the Commission immediately investigate this matter and discipline Judge Kastrenakes accordingly,” Powell said in a statement.
Somerville’s record will remain clean. But he said the time in jail still affected him, especially with regard to care of his disabled grandfather.
“I’m about to go to jail for 10 days,” he recalled thinking, “and that means 10 days I’m not going to be able to help my family and not be able to help my granddad.”
In his explanation for clearing Somerville’s record, Kastrenakes wrote that he believes Somerville had been “totally rehabilitated” as a result of the time in jail.