UPDATE: Hatch case should have jury by end of day Thursday

| Updated 7 p.m. |

VERO BEACH — At the end of the third day of jury selection, the court had narrowed down the potential jurors who might decide case of former Vero Beach attorney Ira Hatch to 44 people. Out of this predominantly white, male group, the court must choose a jury of six and four alternates.

It took about 200 potential jurors called in four different panels to weed out all the candidates who had specific knowledge of the case and who couldn’t serve for up to three months.

After a preliminary show of hands as to knowledge or hardship, the summoned jurors were questioned individually in Courtroom 1 before Senior Judge James Midelis, Assistant State Attorneys Lev Evans and Ryan Butler, Hatch and his defense attorney Greg Eisenmenger. Of those with hardships, excuses ranged from physical limitations and illness to potential financial ruin due to the loss of business income while serving. A great number of potential female jurors were eliminated due to the need to care for children — either infants or school children who will soon be out of classes for the summer.

The evaluation of the claims of hardship required the court to make some judgment calls. What seemed like an insurmountable hardship to one person might have not been to another.

“We’re not going to find anyone who says ‘I have nothing to do for the next month to three months,'” Evans told one potential juror.

Many of the people questioned admitted that they had already formed opinions that Hatch was guilty and that they could not put those aside and commit to be an impartial juror.

“It probably would not be fair for that person, sir,” an Indian River County firefighter told the court, in regard to his potential jury service with pre-formed opinions in mind. That juror was released from service.

If a sufficient number can be secured to seat the 6-person panel on Thursday and the trial could start as early as Friday. The narrowed-down pool of jurors will be questioned as to their prior experience in civil or criminal court, their personal history with and attitudes toward law enforcement and other issues that may cause bias against either the state or the defense.

Defense attorney Eisenmenger requested that Judge Midelis question the jurors about whether or not they could block out the fact that Hatch has been incarcerated since his arrest in Jan. 2008, that his failure to post the $3 million bond to get out would not be viewed as an indication of guilt. Midelis, a seasoned judge and former prosecutor, assured Eisenmenger that he would cover all the important points with the jury.

Earlier this week, Eisenmenger attempted to have Midelis removed from the case due to a perceived bias against the defense. The appeal was rejected by the 4th District Court of Appeals. Midelis is the third judge to hear parts of the Hatch case, as he was called up from retirement after the sudden decision of Judge Robert Hawley to grant the state’s motion for recusal.

Hatch faces 46 counts ranging from grand theft to money laundering and racketeering for allegedly mishandling or absconding with up to $4.5 million in funds placed in trust with him and his now-defunct company, Coastal Escrow Services.


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