BY BUDDY NEVINS
Some folks believe that Broward Circuit Judge Matthew Destry needs a lesson in common courtesy.
He habitually shows up late in court, keeping lawyers, jurors and spectators waiting.
Destry says he is getting a bad rap.
“I know I’m out there. I’m the judge and I get the criticism. (But) the criticism is unfair,” he says.
Destry scheduled a hearing Tuesday on a high profile case at 8:30 a.m. He waltzed into the courtroom at 9:49 a.m.
He never sent word to his crowded courtroom that he would be delayed.
I’m told by critics that this is nothing new for Destry.
“He runs a horrible courtroom. He has a time management problem. He has no understanding for other peoples’ time,” one attorney who has practiced in front of him says.
Destry has a vastly different take on the situation.
He says his court starts at 8:30 a.m. because that is when prisoners arrive from the jail. He doesn’t take the bench until 9:15 to 9:30 a.m. deliberately.
The late arrival is designed to expedite cases, giving lawyers time to work out plea agreements.
“I give those in custody time to talk to their lawyers. A lot of time an agreement is worked out (that avoids a trial),” Destry says.
He says the lawyers and staff who regularly appear in his courtroom know his schedule, which I confirmed with several courthouse denizens.
The courthouse crowd has another complaint about Destry’s work hours. They say the judge regularly keeps court in session late into the evening with no regard for the personal or family commitments of the lawyers, spectators, jurors or staff.
In a highly publicized incident earlier this year, Destry kept his court in session until 11 p.m., Friday, on Halloween because he believed cases needed to be heard.
“He appears indifferent to anybody’s needs except his own,” a noted lawyer told Browardbeat.com. “His only concern is his own needs and he doesn’t care if you have pre-paid trips, if you planned Halloween with your kids, if you have appointments, or anything else going on. The only plans that count are his.”
Destry defends his Halloween night session:
“I had people who wanted their cases heard. I didn’t want to tell them, ‘Come back Monday’…
“The main criticism of government is that we don’t work hard. And when we do work hard, until 11 p.m. to hear cases, there is criticism that we are keeping everybody here. I was here, too.”
Destry says he hears the criticism. He hears the talk behind his back.
“He’s one of two or three judges who never gives the defendant a break,” one lawyer says.
The Defense Bar whispers: Destry is a hanging judge, a stooge for the prosecution.
The labels are understandable based on his history.
Destry was a prosecutor on Florida’s West Coast for over eight years and then an assistant statewide prosecutor for then-Attorney General Charlie Crist.
In 2008 after Crist was elected governor, he appointed Destry to the bench.
Now the 56-year-old bachelor decides the fate of defendants from courthouse office with a view of the New River worthy of a luxury condo. Sprinkled among his law books are hints of his life outside the law — the autobiography of Rolling Stone Keith Richards and “Moby Dick”, which he claims to have actually read, and a pair of huge speakers that tower over the room.
A stereo purist, Destry explains that the tinny sound screeching from the speakers at most parties offend his ears. So he brought his speakers into the office to be lent out to use at holiday parties and other events.
Earlier this year, Destry considered leaving the bench when his term expires in 2016. He believed he could make three or four times as much in the private sector without the stress of having to make decisions about people’s lives.
He talked to his Dad. His Dad asked him why did he need more money? Then he remembered he was doing a public service. He decided to stay on the bench…for now.
Destry says hopes by the time he leaves his courtroom, “I would like people to say that Matt Destry was a good guy. That what I did here made a difference.”
Until he finally decides to hang up his robe, sentences that some believe are harsh will continue. And courtrooms will just have to continue put up with his late starts.
(On Tuesday Browardbeat.com published an article headlined “Broward Judge Labeled Arrogant and Rude.” It concerned allegations that Circuit Judge Matthew Destry was repeatedly late to court and kept lawyers, defendants, spectators and jurors waiting. In preparing the story, I called Destry and left a message on his courthouse answering machine. I called him a second time before posting the article and no one answered. Figuring he was ducking me and didn’t want to be interviewed, I published the piece about the judge. A few hours later, Destry called back after reading the post. He said he never got my message and asked for an in-person interview. He never requested that I take my original post off line. I decided to kill the original piece because it didn’t have his comments and I now knew he wanted to talk. I didn’t have to do that. I did it to be fair and present a complete picture of the controversy….Buddy Nevins.)