The Shark’s House: Be careful where you hang out

By Judge Layne Smith

My daughter and I recently laughed ourselves silly watching the YouTube posting of a lady explaining why she doesn’t swim in the ocean. Her reasoning: “That’s the shark’s house. If I go there, I’ll end up on the shark’s plate. If a chicken comes to my house, the chicken will end up on my plate too.”

Restated, the company you keep matters. People and chickens shouldn’t go where they can expect trouble and you shouldn’t spend time with abusers, losers or users. Instead, exercise some common sense and avoid the shark’s house.

Q. Judge Smith, you’ve written about discovery in civil cases. Is there discovery in criminal cases too? Thanks, George.

A. George, Florida courts don’t allow trials by ambush. Both sides must identify their witnesses and prosecutors must share incriminating and exonerating evidence with defendants.

The parties don’t need the state court’s permission to take discovery depositions in felony cases but do need the state court’s permission take discovery depositions in misdemeanor cases. In contrast, the federal rules of criminal procedure preclude parties from taking discovery depositions in federal prosecutions.

Q. Judge Smith, how will Amendment 4 be implemented and to what extent do you think former felons will be allowed to vote? Thank you, Katrina

A. Katrina, I have served as the chairperson of the Leon County Canvassing Board, which is comprised of a county judge, the supervisor of elections and a county commissioner. Like you, we eagerly await answers to the questions you have posed.

I am sworn to follow the law and will take my direction from the legislature, the appellate courts, and potentially the federal district court. We’ll see how it unfolds; the judicial canons I must follow prohibit me from any further comment or speculation.

Q. Judge Smith, you are a county judge, but I’ve seen you preside over circuit court injunction cases too. How does that work? Terri

A. Terri, I am a county judge, but each year I also perform hundreds of hours of circuit court work in my capacity as an “acting circuit judge.” Each week, your county judges cover the circuit court’s first appearances, search and arrest warrants, and jury qualifications. We also regularly handle injunction dockets and circuit cases assigned to our problem-solving courts. Occasionally, county judges try felony cases and impanel grand juries.

Q. Judge Smith, what happens to people who ignore summonses for jury service? Wendell

A. Wendell, ignoring a summons for jury service is irresponsible and risky. People with scheduling conflicts should ask the clerk of court to reschedule the dates of their jury service. Those who ignore summonses may have to pay fines, serve time in jail, or both.

J. Layne Smith is a Leon County Judge who speaks and writes about civics, law, and the administration of justice. Email your questions to

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