50 years ago: Hearing on indictments delayed after defendant's heart seizure

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Feb. 20, 2017

Former city Recreation Department Director George Robinson Sr. suffered a heart seizure, forcing cancellation of a hearing on preliminary motions on grand larceny charges brought against him and City Council member Lemuel Sharp in 1966 by the Duval County grand jury.

The motions were scheduled to be heard Monday, but were deferred by Criminal Court Judge William Harvey when Robinson’s attorneys presented a physician’s certificate detailing his condition.

In the certificate, Dr. Joseph Lowenthal said Robinson was in St. Luke’s Hospital recovering from what he described as “a serious episode of myocardial infarction complicated with congestive failure.”

Lowenthal said although Robinson’s progress had been satisfactory, “in this serious illness, he will probably be unable to appear at any hearing for at least another eight or 10 weeks.”

Meanwhile, the two weeks beginning July 17 were tentatively set aside by Criminal Court Judge Hans Tanzler Jr. for the trial of former City Commissioner Dallas Thomas on one of 17 grand larceny charges brought against him by the grand jury.

Not so fast, said Thomas’s attorney, Chester Bedell.

He indicated at a hearing that he might be inclined to ask the trial be moved because of the publicity his client and other officials received after being indicted.

In another development in the local government corruption scandal, attorneys for six other city and county officials indicted for theft and perjury by the grand jury filed motions claiming all the jury’s actions were invalid.

Citing Florida law that required a grand juror to be a registered voter, the lawyers said one of the jurors, Charles Handrahan, was not registered to vote in the county.

“We have checked this thoroughly with the supervisor of elections,” said attorney Charles Arnold. “He was not registered to vote when he was called and he was not registered to vote at the time he served.”

Arnold contended the grand jury was absolutely without power to indict, summon witnesses or even administer oaths.

The motions raised the question whether — if the jury was invalid — all eight indicted officials would go free of the multiple charges they were facing.

It would remain up to the courts to determine whether, despite the possible invalidity of the grand jury’s actions, State Attorney William Hallowes could prosecute the defendants on direct informations filed in Criminal Court based on testimony of witnesses taken before him.

No hearings on the motions were set before the judges initially involved: William Harvey, A. Lloyd Layton and Tanzler.

• The 1967 Legislature would be asked to implement an “industrial services unit” in an effort to put Florida on a better competitive footing in the search for new industry with neighboring states that offered tax incentives to companies that established operations in those states.

C. William Beaufort of Jacksonville, the new chair of the Florida Development Commission, revealed the proposal in a talk to the Committee of 100 of the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce.

He said the program would help reduce one of the most serious problems that faced new industrial development — startup loss.

“Traditionally, manufacturers expend large chunks of time and money recruiting and training a workforce for a new plant. Inevitably, these costs and others result in huge startup losses, which cause the new plant to operate in the red far too long,” said Beaufort.

The industrial services unit would be a cooperative venture of the commission and the state Education Department.

• A new radio system for the Duval County Patrol would go into service July 1 to replace a system installed in 1950 that had only one channel for all police radio communication.

Planning Officer F.L. Dozier said the new system would divide the county into west and east patrol channels. The old system would be retained for use by detectives and for administrative calls.

Need for the new system arose from 130 units jammed on a single channel and inadequate car-to-car communications, Dozier said.

“By having the two new channels and splitting the county, patrol cars will be able to talk to one another in their district. They can talk to the other district by changing the channel,” he said.

Four deputies would take telephone calls at police headquarters, determine whether they belonged to the east or west dispatcher and send the message on a card to the appropriate dispatcher on a conveyor belt.

“In calls of emergency, the receiving deputy can flip a switch to a monitor inside the soundproof console room and allow the dispatcher to send cars immediately from information the caller is providing,” said Dozier.

The system also would permit a dispatcher to broadcast countywide to all law enforcement agencies — county units, city units and even to law enforcement agencies in South Georgia.

Dozier said the cost for the system would be $3,200 a month on a lease-purchase contract. The sheriff’s department would own the system in four years.

The price included extending the existing 200-foot radio tower to 400 feet, plus the radios and the control console.

• Mayor Lou Ritter said he would seek a meeting with the Duval Hospital Authority to discuss the possibility of the authority operating an ambulance service with its headquarters at Duval Medical Center.

Ritter said he believed such a setup would ensure adequate staffing of ambulances by trained personnel, possibly interns.

He made the announcement at the City Commission meeting after receiving a letter from Fire Chief W.A. Jackson.

His personnel took over emergency ambulances services a week earlier after private contractors quit in a dispute with the city over increased insurance rates and their inability to collect from patients for many of their calls.

Jackson said of 130 departmental calls answered in the first week after taking over the service, 54 were for first aid or emergency services.

He said providing the service was causing a hardship on the department, its men and equipment, but that problems had been held to a minimum.

• Sam Gregory, security guard at City Hall since 1947, said he would seek one of the new positions on the City Civil Service Board when the seats became elective in the spring.

The three-member board was at the time appointed, but the Legislature expanded the membership to five and provided for the posts to be filled by the voters.

A native of Georgia, Gregory retired in 1946 from the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad as a railroad policeman.

The day after his retirement, Gregory was asked to serve temporarily as security guard for the city “until they could get a man, but they never did,” he said.

Known as “Mr. Sam” to city employees, Gregory was a lifelong Democrat and said he was admitted to the Bar in Carrolton, Ga., in 1941 when a law degree was not required for admission.

• Residents in the San Souci area soon would have a lighted diamond on which to play baseball or softball.

The Board of County Commissioners awarded a $5,305 contract to Commercial Electric Co. to put up the lights at Fletcher Morgan Park.

A recreation department spokesman said the lights would be installed by June, when as many as 15 softball teams were expected to begin playing in a night league.

In other business, the board approved a $650 monthly pension for E.P Barwald, who had retired as county auditor.

Also approved was expenditure of $350 each for sirens at six county fire stations that were not equipped with the devices.

• Robert Spiro, president of Jacksonville University, said the annual fund drive with the goal to raise $175,000 for the living endowment would begin Feb. 28 with a dinner at the Mayflower Hotel.

The dinner would be attended by members of the University Council, the board of trustees, their wives and other members of the university staff.

Carl Rudicill, president of the Knight Paper Co. and president of the council, would be chair of fundraising.

“We have an important job to do. In light of the ever-increasing cost of providing quality higher education, our job is perhaps now more important than ever before,” he said.