On Wednesday, December 21, 2022, Representative Patt Maney introduced House Bill 71 that aims to increase protections for certain courtroom personnel following an attack on an Alachua County defense attorney by his client inside a courtroom.
- The bill would increase the penalties for individuals found guilty of assaulting these individuals, and aims to shed light on the need for increased safety measures in courtrooms.
According to WCJB, and as seen in a video published, defense attorney Eric Atria was attacked by Obadiah Dillard. Dillard punched Atria on the left side of his head, reportedly fracturing his skull.
Under current law, individuals who commit acts of violence against certain professionals, including law enforcement officers, correctional officers, assistant and state attorneys, justices, and judges, may face increased penalties. However, defense attorneys are not included among the group of professionals whose protection is enhanced by this law.
According to Maney, the bill would make straightforward changes to the law by upgrading the penalties for those found guilty of assaulting certain courtroom personnel.
“It doesn’t change the law other than who’s covered, and it provides the same legal protection to defense attorneys who are really very vulnerable to potential attacks because they’re the ones sitting next to defendants, some of whom have a propensity for violence and may very well have a violent history,” said Maney.
In addition to this formal change, the bill could also lead to informal changes in the way courtrooms are set up and secured. Maney suggests that these changes could include additional bailiffs or security officers in the courtroom, along with changes to the layout of the courtroom to protect against violence.
Maney, a former judge in Okaloosa County, said he has had juveniles, who turned out to be very violent, need 2-3 bailiffs to get control of the situation. He also notes that some defendants may choose to be violent as a way to intimidate courtroom personnel or disrupt proceedings.
In all his years on the bench, he said that he has never witnessed something as violent as what happened in Alachua County.
- “I’ve never seen something get that bad and I was totally shocked,” he said.
While the state is responsible for paying the salaries of judges, prosecutors, and other courtroom personnel, the counties are responsible for providing courthouse facilities and equipment. Maney notes that this could lead to Sheriff’s Offices allocating additional resources to court security or requesting more personnel to ensure the safety of those working in courtrooms.
Maney also emphasizes the importance of maintaining the presumption of innocence for defendants and the need to balance this with the safety of courtroom personnel.
“You have to ensure that you don’t do anything that raises a visual presumption of guilt,” added Rep. Maney. “Everybody has a presumption of innocence, so you have to balance those two things under Florida law.
House Bill 71 will go through a review process that involves being reviewed by the Rules Committee and various other committees or subcommittees. Maney says these committees will look for any problems with the current language of the bill and vote on whether to pass it along to the next stage.
- The staff for each committee will also do an analysis of the bill and consider whether any changes or additions, such as including magistrates or hearing officers, are necessary.
- If the bill passes through all of the committees and is added to the queue, it will be debated and voted on during the House Floor Session in March.
Overall, Maney’s bill represents a significant effort to increase protections for those working in the criminal justice system and to ensure the safety of all individuals in courtrooms.
“My experience being in a courtroom, as a litigator and as a judge, has given me a passion to try to take my experience and knowledge and improve the system for the benefit of the public and the participants in court,” added Maney.