Judge enjoys challenges in civil court cases

Judge Kent Compton recently paid a visit to the East Pasco Networking Group —where he discussed his duties in the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Florida.

The former Zephyrhills city councilman, and longtime lawyer and prosecutor took up the post in January, after being elected in August 2018.

While still settling in, Compton clearly enjoys his new gig at the Historic Pasco County Courthouse building in Dade City.

“I feel like I’ve got the best job in the state of Florida,” Compton said, during the Nov. 26 breakfast meeting at IHOP in Dade City. He said he finds the position to be “very refreshing.”

Pasco County judge Kent Compton was a guest speaker at a Nov. 26 East Pasco Networking Group breakfast meeting at IHOP in Dade City. (Kevin Weiss)

He went on: “I love criminal law, but I love the civil law and I love everything new about it, and the challenges and the opportunity to do something different, to research something different, to hear the stories, —I enjoy that.”

Compton presides over county civil cases handling principal issues $15,000 or less, small claims and traffic court, as well as first appearance advisories. He also is on-call for emergency petitions for arrest warrants, search warrants, Marchman Acts, Baker Acts and so on.

On an emotional level, Compton said eviction hearings are “the hardest part of my job.”

He explained: “I’ve had some very unhappy people, particular in evictions. I’m human, but I have to follow the law, and Chapter 83 (of the Florida state landlord-tenant statutes) gives me fantastic direction on what to do. If the money’s not paid, if the right motion isn’t made, then people are disappointed.”

Compton added, “it can be kind of hairy — very specific notices, requirements of what the landlord has to do, what the tenant has to do.”

He also mentioned that conducting traffic court can become “quite a scene,” noting his courtroom will be filled with 20 or 25 law enforcement officers and another 50 people waiting for their case to be heard. There also can be “a little gamesmanship” between law enforcement officers and violators who’ve been issued a ticket or citation.

Violators “will come to court taking the gamble the law enforcement officer doesn’t show up,” he said. If that happens, Compton said he will dismiss the case “99% of the time.”

If the law enforcement officer is present, however, Compton said the violator usually will enter a plea to close the case.

In more substantial traffic matters, such as car accidents, Compton said there’ll be “a full-blown hearing” between a defendant and plaintiff.

That typically includes witness testimony, as well as video and photographic evidence.

Those cases, he said, can be challenging because it becomes “a credibility contest.”

Testimony between defendants and plaintiffs can be “just unbelievably 180 degrees separate,” Compton said.

In judging those matters, he said: “You rely upon your common sense and your life experience to try and decide who’s telling the truth, but sometimes I can’t tell, and if that’s the case, it’s not guilty.”

On the other hand, though, “Sometimes it’s pretty obvious the person is caught in their own lying,” he said.

When he’s unsure how to decide a case, the judge said, he’ll take it under advisement to research an issue further, study case law and lean on the experience of his fellow peers in the courthouse and judges throughout the state.

“I have the great resource of all the other judges who are very helpful to me if I have any indecision,” Compton said.

The speaker drew parallels between the courtroom and his dozen-plus years on the city council:

“It’s a people business. You must listen, and you must be fair and courteous. It’s the same job, there’s just a lot more legal mumbo jumbo to go along with it.”

Those qualities are something Compton reminds lawyers and others that enter his courtroom, he said.

Said Compton, “The lawyers, it’s basically a confrontation of business, but while we have to do zealous representation, we also need to have professional courtesy amongst each other and the court.”

When asked how the job differs from what he expected, Compton said, “I didn’t realize that I would see a stack of paper every day. I spend an hour and a half, two hours every day just going through paperwork and processing evictions or motions for summary judgement or credit cards, stuff like that.”

He also was surprised by the quantity of nonjury trials that he handles in the civil division.

Published December 04, 2019

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