Recused Judge Speaks Out

Judge Crockett Farnell
TAMPA -

Unlike the judge in Fort Lauderdale - Pinellas County Circuit Judge Crocket Farnell charged D-C-F (Department of Children and Families) Secretary Lucy Hadi with indirect criminal contempt last month and fined her $80,000 for not providing treatment for the mentally incompetent defendants stuck in jail.

FARNELL: I view it a little differently. I had a number of hearings in which they brought various personnel down from their hierarchy never bringing the secretary down. But when you lay all the figures out and the testimony, they did not request sufficient funding in fact they reduced their funding from their prior request. All the while, everybody knew this problem existed and was going to get worse.

Farnell says the closure of state psychiatric facilities has compounded the problem.

FARNELL: Of course it saves them a lot of money when they do that. But, now they have no place to put these people they don't have the funding for the few individuals that could be returned to the community in a local treatment center because they don't have those available. They're the ones who are responsible for the funding they go to the legislature and request an adequate amount to meet the needs and they just flat haven't done this.

Farnell is retiring at the end of this month. One of his biggest disappointments - he won't be able to see the D-C-F case through. He reluctantly disqualified himself because lawyers for D-C-F Secretary Lucy Hadi made a strong enough legal argument to require his recusal.

Farnell told a newspaper last month he would love to throw Hadi in jail.

FARNELL: I shouldn't have said it. That's what you call shooting yourself in the foot or similar terms. I shouldn't have said it. I felt it. I meant it because the reason I said it was yes I would put her in jail or anybody else that would put pressure in Tallahassee to get something accomplished to address the problem.

The legal spat though has brought attention to the problem which heartens Farnell who has seen incompetent inmates hurt themselves while awaiting treatment and transfer.

FARNELL: The one who gouged his eye out. That's pretty compelling. And we're upped by Dade County where they had an inmate down there who gouged both eyes out.

He says the state has statutory responsibility to care for incompetent inmates.

FARNELL: And the concern is these folks number one have a presumption of innocence and an awful lot of them that are caught up and are incompetent are in there on misdemeanors things that if they were competent they would sentenced most likely to time served.

Farnell retires on December 31st. But he thinks others will continue to pressure the state to act.

FARNELL: The governor has additional funds up there. It's amazing how when I started applying the pressure all the sudden $5-million drops out. Well 5 million is great but unfortunately that isn't going to meet the statewide need but there are other funding sources available that could be immediately addressing this problem. If nothing else, they've got the special session of the legislature coming to address the insurance problem which is certainly a significant problem. But while the legislature is there let's have somebody take a look at this.

The judge believes it is crucial to find a solution during January's special session or else the treatment of Florida's hundreds of mentally ill defendants will get lost in the rush of the regular session in March.

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