The Florida Bar

Florida Bar News

Senate bill adding greater protections for defense counsels ready for the floor

Senior Editor Top Stories
Sen. Jennifer Bradley

Sen. Jennifer Bradley

The measure offering greater protection to defense counsel and enhancing the penalties for anyone who attacks any court-appointed counsel or defense counsel breezed through its final committee stop in Senate Rules on April 5.

SB 384, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, would amend F.S. §775.0823, outlining penalties for violent offenses committed against law enforcement officers, correctional officers, state attorneys, assistant state attorneys, justices, or judges.

Bradley told the committee all officers of the court do not have the same protections while serving in their official capacity.

“Prosecutors, judges, and bailiffs are all protected under the law with an enhanced penalty during court proceedings,” Bradley said. “The only integral party to the proceedings that do not enjoy this protection are usually the ones at most risk of harm — the defense attorneys.”

Bradley recounted the courtroom attack that brought this bill to fruition. In November of last year, Gainesville defense attorney Eric Atria was representing his criminally charged client during a trial in an Alachua County courtroom. Without warning, Obadiah Dillard attacked his counsel, punching him on the left side of the face — fracturing his skull.

“This bill corrects that injustice by adding defense attorneys in a criminal proceeding to the statute designed to protect court officers,” Bradley said.

Without questions or debate, the measure passed out of the Rules Committee unanimously and is now ready for the Senate floor.

Rep. Patt Maney

Rep. Patt Maney

The lower chamber’s companion, HB 71, by Rep. Patt Maney, R-Shalimar, was voted out of its third and final committee stop in the Judiciary Committee March 14. Maney, whose bill is now ready for the full House, said the point of the bill is a matter of public safety.

“This bill will very simply expand the protection of people in the courtroom…to the defense attorney whether that’s a public defender, assistant public defender, regional counsel, or assistant regional counsel. [The] statute already protects the judge and the prosecutor by enhancing the penalties for somebody who attacks those people,” Maney said.

Maney said treating defense attorneys the same as prosecutors is also a matter of recruitment and retention.

“Why should you take a job, one job over another, one if you’re protected and one if you’re not protected?” Maney asked.

News in Photos