Case reopens to determine damages

-A A +A
By Jeff M. Hardison

BRONSON - Many were called but few were chosen March 3 when a jury trial started to decide monetary damages to be awarded in a 2002 civil circuit court case that reopened.

There were 150 people summoned to be jurors in the trial of Wesley versus Security Trust Plans, Circuit Court Clerk Danny Shipp told the prospective jurors that Monday morning.

From those 150 individuals, about half were excused by the judge before the start of selecting a jury. That brought the number to 73 possible jurors, Shipp said.

From those 73, there was about a 50 percent turnout. Individuals who failed to appear for jury duty must come before a judge and explain why they missed, Shipp said. Fines of $50 to $100, and arrest warrants sometimes result for people who skip jury duty, Shipp said.

He thanked the people who appeared to perform their civic duty.

From the group that showed up, Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Judge William Swigert excused another nine potential jurors. One woman was too handicapped to be a juror. One law enforcement officer showed the potential of being called as a witness in some criminal cases running at the same time as this civil trial. And there were other reasons the judge accepted as excuses.

This case is being tried by a judge from the Fifth rather than the Eighth Judicial Circuit due to a shortage of judges to meet demands here.

Judge Swigert is retired, Eighth Judicial Circuit Chief Circuit Court Administrator Ted McFetridge said. On occasion, there are not enough Eighth Judicial Circuit court judges to hear civil cases. When that happens, a retired judge can be called back into service, McFetridge said.

Levy County is in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which also includes Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist and Union counties.

The Fifth Circuit includes Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.

The visiting retired judge explained the process to possible participants. Swigert said six jurors and two alternates must be selected.

The judge compared jury duty to active duty by soldiers. In both instances, he said, the action protects the American way of life. He also thanked jurors for taking time from their busy schedules to pay attention and decide facts in this case after being presented testimony and evidence.

Jurors must dedicate their attention to the case for some number of days, Swigert said. The trial is expected to be finished by March 5, but it may last until March 7, he said.

The case involves the loss of remains of a cremated man, and the jury is to decide the monetary value to be awarded family members for their pain and suffering. This is a 2002 case that reopened.

The plaintiffs in this case are Robert Wesley, Catrina Ponce Shepard and Penny Wesley Conrad. Their attorney is N. Albert Bacharach Jr., according to records.

The defendants are Security Trust Plans, Knauff Funeral Home, Knauff Crematory and Richard P. Gooding Funeral Home. The attorney for the defense is Michael J. Obringer, according to records.