- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Dennis DeMartin, the infamous juror slammed for “wreaking havoc” on Palm Beach County’s courts, just fired back at his accusers.

Battling to keep the ailing 72-year-old out of jail for his accused misconduct in the John Goodman DUI manslaughter, failure to render aid case, DeMartin’s attorney on Monday defended his client’s continuing appeal of two misdemeanor convictions from early last year.

The state Attorney General’s Office exaggerated when it used “hyperbole” to blast DeMartin for preventing the Wellington polo mogul from getting a fair trial in 2012, and forcing an expensive retrial last year, Assistant Public Defender Paul Petillo wrote.

“If it did wreak havoc (and it didn’t), that’s only because the Palm Beach County justice system let itself get caught up in the fanfare of trying a wealthy criminal defendant,” the attorney argued.

After his high-profile October retrial, Goodman, 51, was found guilty in the Feb. 12, 2010, death of Scott Patrick Wilson, 23, and sentenced to 16 years in state prison, the same as the first time. Denied bond while he appeals the conviction, Goodman is an inmate at Madison Correctional Institution, east of Tallahassee, records show.

The public costs of the second Goodman trial exceeded $127,000, for overtime paid out by the Palm Beach County sheriff’s and court clerk’s offices, and the price of sequestering and paying jurors from Tampa for the case.

DeMartin, formerly of Delray Beach, has been free on a $7,500 appellate bond, ordered by the 4th District Court of Appeal. He spent 36 nights in Palm Beach County Jail after Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath imposed a nearly six-month sentence in January 2014.

For the first criminal contempt charge, Colbath ruled DeMartin was “willfully deceitful” during Goodman’s first jury selection in March 2012 when he was asked a question but didn’t disclose an ex-wife’s DUI arrest.

On the second charge, the judge said DeMartin violated court rules when he conducted a secret a vodka-drinking experiment at home before deliberating the Goodman verdict with five other jurors.

DeMartin, a retired accountant, wrote about both matters in self-published paperback books, which Goodman’s then-attorneys brought to the court’s attention in their successful effort to toss Goodman’s initial conviction.

In previous court papers, DeMartin’s counsel said on top of the legal arguments he should not be jailed again because of his heart condition, dementia, poor finances, and the days he already spent locked up.

In May, Florida Assistant Attorney General Richard Valuntas asked the appellate court to reject DeMartin’s appeal and require him to complete his sentence.

Petillo’s latest pleading again asks for DeMartin’s penalty to be reduced to time served, or for him to be resentenced by a different judge, because DeMartin “committed no transgressions.”

Petillo took aim at the question asked of DeMartin and the other prospective jurors: “Has anyone in the panel themselves, close friend or family member or someone that affects you, ever been arrested, charged or convicted or accused of a crime?”

Based on the wording, DeMartin “was not in contempt of court for failing to divulge that his first ex-wife was arrested for DUI six years after they separated and two years after their divorce,” the attorney wrote.

The question used the present tense and wasn’t asking whether someone that “has ever” affected you been arrested, he explained, arguing there’s no proof DeMartin was as close with his ex-wife as the state claimed.

“There are a number of people with whom one is friendly and cordial … yet few of them ‘affect’ or influence us,” Petillo wrote. “Asking jurors, “Who affects you?” is not a straightforward question and it is reasonably susceptible to misinterpretation.”

Valuntas has argued DeMartin’s answers during jury selection were not honest and candid, and his ex-wife fell into the category of someone who “affects” him, and he was obligated to inform the lawyers about her arrest.

Regarding the second contempt charge, Judge Colbath said he instructed the jurors not to conduct outside research or consider facts not in evidence during deliberations.

But this instruction “did not precisely … forbid” DeMartin from drinking “three vodka and tonics to see how he would feel after having drunk that much,” Petillo argued.

DeMartin’s “well-meaning drinking ‘experiment’ was unwise but not contemptuous,” he concluded, in Monday’s pleading.

The attorney for the state earlier contended, “the trial court specifically prohibited the jurors from ‘trying to educate yourself on this case’ or from doing any research about the case.”

Another fight in the appeal concerns Colbath’s declaration that he wished, with DeMartin’s sentence, to “send a message” to other jurors not to take jury service lightly.

DeMartin’s attorney argues “it is improper to single out (someone held in contempt of court) for especially harsh treatment in order to “send a message.”

But the state’s attorney noted there’s nothing wrong with the judge’s desire for DeMartin’s punishment to be a “general deterrence” against misconduct by people called for jury duty in the future.

And, in response to DeMartin’s argument about “far worse offenders” in society getting easier sentences, Valuntas wrote those criminals didn’t “cause such a significant financial cost to the administration of justice, nor did they force the parents of a young victim to endure the horror of sitting through a second criminal trial regarding their son’s death.”

[email protected], 561-243-6642 or Twitter @MarcJFreeman

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