"The Glass Bottom Boat" was on the screens at the Blanding, Main Street and Southside drive-ins. It was noted it was the first outdoor showing of the film.

50 years ago: Circuit judge rules against prosecutors in obscenity case

Aug. 1, 2016

Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It was a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1966. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

Circuit Judge Frank Elmore ruled as clearly unconstitutional the seizure by the Duval County Sheriff’s office of 16,000 paperback books considered obscene by prosecutors.

Elmore said seizure of the books from Jake’s Newsstand on Bay Street and a request by the State Attorney’s Office for a court order to destroy the volumes constituted “an attempt at deprivation of property without due process of law.”

That, he said, was contrary to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Rights of the Florida Constitution.

Were the techniques employed in the case to be used against a daily newspaper, it could result in the seizure, without prior adversary judicial determination of the matter, of not just a single copy, but the entire press run of one day’s edition because of an alleged offending story or even an advertisement of a book, play or movie, said Elmore.

The suit, filed in June, named as defendant no person, but about 50 book titles such as “The Lost Students,” “Vice House,” “Take My Wife,” “Bedroom Champ” and “Orgy Storm.”

A spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office said personnel of the office had studied the books and decided they met Florida law’s definition of obscenity.

The judge still was asked to enter an injunction forbidding sale of the books, rule each book as obscene under Florida law and enter a final decree directing Sheriff Dale Carson to destroy the books.

Elmore denied all three requests.

Instead, he ordered Carson to promptly return the books to the newsstand and file a certificate of his compliance with the order.

The books were returned the next day, despite a request by Assistant State Attorney Edward Booth for a stay in the order, pending an appeal to a higher court.

“In all fairness to Judge Elmore, the question of the obscenity of these books was not reached because the court ruled they were seized illegally,” Booth said, “Therefore, the subject of obscenity was not reached.”

• Tom Slade, Republican candidate for state Senate, called for creation of a countywide electric authority, which would include Jacksonville’s city-owned power system.

A former Democrat member of the state House of Representatives, Slade said the power authority would be similar to the Jacksonville Port Authority and would improve the equity of county residents who had a vested interest in the city utility system, but got no return on their investment.

“The Jacksonville municipal electric system is one of the 10 largest in the nation and this investment should be protected by an authority which will provide competent management,” he said.

• Officials of a block company, a construction firm and a plumbing supplies company were called to appear before the Duval County grand jury as the panel resumed its probe of city government financial affairs.

Subpoenas were issued by State Attorney William Hallowes for the appearance of Henderson Boree, president of Boree Block Co., and Lee Welch, general supervisor at the company.

Also ordered to appear were William Connors, president of Connors Construction Co. Inc., and Uly Mack of Mack Plumbing Supplies Co.

As he was required by law to do, Hallowes declined comment on what questions would be put to the witnesses.

Circuit Judge Marion Gooding on May 27 ordered a wide-ranging investigation of government affairs to prove or disprove a television station’s news reports of wrongdoing.

• Brewster Methodist Hospital, slated to close its doors Sept. 1, was granted a 30-day extension by the Methodist Church.

The extension was granted at the request of a citizens committee that was working to secure a $1 million loan needed to keep the 160-bed hospital open.

“We’ve gotten some favorable response, but we’ve got some terrific problems to solve or we’ll have to lock the doors Oct. 1,” said Gordon Blaylock, committee chair.

The church announced in late May it would discontinue operating the hospital, established as a mission to the black community. due to a mounting deficit.

• Speaking to the Meninak Club of Jacksonville, Kenneth Taylor said the laser had changed from a scientific curiosity to potentially one of mankind’s most important tools.

Taylor was an engineer with the area office of the Southern Bell Telephone & Telegraph Co., which together with Bell Laboratories and other units of the Bell System, was seeking new uses for lasers.

He said by modulating the light from a laser in the same way radio waves were modulated, lasers could be used to transmit voice messages, television and radio programs and to link two or more computers so they could “talk” to each other.

Other uses Taylor predicted were using lasers to repair detached retinas in humans and drilling holes in diamonds.

“It’s also possible that cables utilizing fiber optics could carry laser beams underground, much the same way wire cables carry messages,” he said.

• Adults didn’t plan ahead with the same care as younger people planning to attend college or evening classes was the message from faculty and administrators preparing to open the new Florida Junior College at Jacksonville.

They were expecting far more than the initial projection of 1,500 students enrolled for day and evening classes.

How many adults would sign up for night classes wouldn’t be known until they showed up on registration night, said A.P. Beaudoin, director of community services.

“Adults just don’t plan ahead like high school graduates do,” he said. “Some don’t indicate until the night of registration they want to take courses.”

Day and night courses would be offered at two campuses: the Southside campus at 1450 Flagler Ave. and the Cumberland campus at Park Street and Roosevelt Boulevard.

An additional evening center would be located in Fernandina Beach, probably at a high school, Beaudoin said.

• The first piece of steel that would form the Commodores Point Bridge was set in place and bolted to the largest of several piers constructed in the St. Johns River.

The 60-ton component was two pieces of steel spliced together with bolts. It was what engineers termed the “lower chord” of the bridge’s truss span.

The superstructure of the bridge had been fabricated and was being installed under a $7 million contract with Allied Structural Steel Co. of Hammond, Ind., where the components were manufactured and shipped to Jacksonville.

When complete, the bridge would be 2,584 feet long and would provide a 950-foot horizontal navigation opening and a vertical clearance of 135 feet above mean high water.

• In national news, a sniper high in a tower at the University of Texas in Austin killed 12 people after murdering his wife and mother with a knife and gun. He also wounded 31 people.

After 90 minutes of terror, two police officers ended the carnage by climbing onto a platform above the sniper, 24-year-old Charles Whitman, and killing him with six shots from a revolver and two blasts from a shotgun loaded with deer slugs.

Counting the sniper, the dead totaled 16, including the unborn child of a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy.

Police said Whitman left notes near the bodies of his wife and mother, slain separately in their homes. The notes told of depression, repressed violence and severe headaches.

Police said Whitman wrote he was killing the women to spare them embarrassment over what he was about to do at the university.