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Judge Says Threat Was a Mistake

August 26, 1998

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ A judge who threatened to step down from the bench and ``knock the hell″ out of a defendant for wearing an unbuttoned shirt said he may have overreacted.

Hillsborough County Judge Elvin Martinez said he was upset that Tony Arnette Cole disobeyed a bailiff who told him Tuesday to button his shirt.

``It was just a mistake,″ said Martinez, who spent four decades in the state Legislature before he was appointed to the bench last year. ``I shouldn’t have done it.″

Cole, a 24-year-old landscaper and maintenance worker, was in court for a pretrial hearing on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. He wore a tucked in T-shirt and a shirt worn like a jacket.

The 64-year-old judge told Cole’s lawyer to remind his client that the courtroom is not a barroom or recreational hall.

``I’ll step down from here and knock the hell out of him if he doesn’t button that shirt,″ the judge said.

Cole said he did not understand the bailiff’s instruction and felt he was dressed appropriately.

``When he said he’d jump down, I was like, `Man, what is he talking about?‴ Cole said. ``I don’t know what’s wrong with that guy.″

Martinez is no stranger to the other side of the bench. He was indicted in 1996 on charges of lying to a federal grand jury about personal drug use. He was acquitted on three counts and a fourth was dismissed for lack of evidence.

He was convicted in 1990 of failing to file income tax returns in a timely fashion, a misdemeanor, and sentenced to three years’ probation. Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed him to the bench last year.

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