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Court circuit starts new education initiative

Court circuit starts new education initiative
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The 5th Judicial Circuit Court has started a new outreach venture.

A program called Court & Citizens Summit aims to enhance citizens’ understanding of the circuit and how court works in general. The circuit will hold quarterly summits in different regions of coverage. The first was held Tuesday at the Rohan Regional Recreation Center, 850 Kristine Way in The Villages.

Jeff Fuller, circuit spokesman, said the program was developed from the circuit’s “dedication to strengthening the relationship between the community and the judiciary.” It also furthers the Florida Supreme Court’s communication initiative.

The 5th Judicial Circuit includes Marion, Lake, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando counties.

Tuesday’s summit focused on county courts and alternative courts within the circuit. Marion County Judge Robert Landt and Sumter County Judge Paul Militello spoke to the handful of attendees. Future summits will focus on other topics.

Militello took a “nuts and bolts” approach to explaining how county court works. With the help of a slideshow presentation, he used comparisons and common public assumptions to explain what the court is and is not.

He displayed a picture of the Wizard of Oz to explain what court is not like.

“Maybe a perception is a judge is supposed to scream and yell,” he said, but that’s not true.

Militello discussed basics including where the Sumter County courthouse is, what citizens can expect when they visit it and the different levels of court within the state of Florida.

“County courts probably have the most contact with the general public,” he said. He described his courtroom as a “high volume” one.

County court judges handle an assortment of cases including misdemeanors, traffic issues, small claims and civil cases with damages amounts under $15,000.

“Being the only (Sumter) county judge, I get to see everything that comes through,” he said.

Militello concluded his presentation with the requirements to become a county judge and a reminder that the courts “are open to the public.”

Landt’s presentation focused on Marion County’s Drug Court program but also touched on the other treatment courts provided throughout the circuit. Drug Court focuses on treating a person’s addiction and starting over in life compared to simple punishment in traditional court.

Defendants must apply to participate in the program and some crimes, usually violent ones, are disqualifiers.

“If we can successfully complete drug treatment, we can successfully complete goals of society,” Landt said.

Landt works with the State Attorney’s Office, Office of the Public Defender, probation officers, treatment clinicians and a court coordinator to make the program work. The team aims to create the best individualized treatment plan for every participant.

Participants are required to attend meetings, doctor appointments and are subject to random drug screens, Landt said. But if someone receives a sanction, the next time they’re in court “it’s a new day,” he said.

Landt said he wants more people to participate so they can receive the information and treatment they need.

“If you are willing to admit you have a drug problem, you’re welcome,” he said.

The next summit has not yet been announced.

Contact Katie Pohlman at 867-4065, katie.pohlman@starbanner.com or @katie_pohlman.

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