INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — After some legal wrangling by the defense to have the judge remove himself from the case against former attorney Ira Hatch, the rest of the day was spent identifying 14 potential jurors who could sit on the trial that is expected to last three months.
A total of 300 jury candidates were scheduled to be in court on Monday, but by the end of the day the prosecution and defense were were able to work with just the first group of 50 possible jurors. Of those 50 candidates, 14 were asked to come back for a second round of questioning later in the week after they were identified as either not having specific knowledge of the case or that serving would not be a hardship. The morning started with Hatch’s attorney, Greg Eisenmenger, filing a motion that Senior Judge James Midelis was biased toward state prosecutors since taking over the case two weeks ago. Midelis rejected the motion and another to have the court separate out some 25 charges from the 47 counts in this trial.
Eisenmenger said defense attorney Robert Berry would file a writ of prohibition with the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach to have Midelis removed from the case.
With the legal wrangling completed, attorneys went about culling the group of 300 candidates into a pool of 50 potential jurors who would be able to take part as a member of the 6-person panel for the trial.
In all, 43 of the first 50 juror candidates said that serving for the 30 to 90 days the trial is expected to take would be an extreme hardship or that they had prior knowledge of the case.
The court then began questioning the hardship cases and came up with 7 more potential jurors.
“As you can surmise we need jurors and we are not getting any,” a frustrated Midelis said to one candidate.
Assistant State Attorney Ryan Butler said he expects jury selection to go on through the beginning of next week.
“The judge wants to have 50 jurors to go into questioning,” Butler said. “If we get 10 a day, that will take us up to about next Tuesday for questioning. Then it should only take one day to get a jury.”
Hatch is accused of either mishandling or stealing approximately $4.5 million in funds entrusted to him by clients of his law firm and of Coastal Escrow Services, which closed its doors on Sept. 4, 2007.
The 54 charges Hatch is facing are the result of a three-month investigation which led to his arrest in Jan. 2008, plus more than two years of unearthing of evidence by police and by the office of State Attorney Bruce Colton.
Assistant State Attorneys Butler and Lev Evans are prosecuting the case and plan to call at least 150 witnesses and to enter into evidence about 500 exhibits documenting the funds deposited into Hatch’s accounts, which were not available to clients after Hatch closed the business.