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Spring Break Court Now in Session

March 9, 1998

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Instead of basking on the beach, 47 vacationers were cleaning it Monday, picking up beer cans and fast-food wrappers after the first session of Spring Break Court.

In the City Council chamber being used as a temporary courtroom, Judge Thomas R. Ellinor sat in front of the city flag, which features a palm tree and a blond woman reclining on a sugar-white beach.

The office of State Attorney Jim Appleman is managing the pretrial intervention program that lets those charged with such misdemeanors as underage and public drinking avoid fines and arrest records by doing a day of community service.

``We want to put them out on the street so that everybody who is out there knows if they are going to violate a law there will be consequences for it,″ Appleman said.

Defendants were given a choice Monday: either work a day to get the charges dismissed, plead guilty or no contest and pay a $175 fine, or plead innocent and appear for arraignment Wednesday at the county courthouse in nearby Panama City.

No one took the latter option on the cool, windy day that found 19-year-old Jacob Skeeters of Elizabethtown, Ky., picking up trash, wearing a bright orange vest with ``Bay County Jail″ on the back.

``It’ll teach us not to drink riding in the back of a pickup truck when the cops drive by,″ said Skeeters, who attends the University of Kentucky. ``We’ll just drink and then go out.″

To show this was serious business, Ellinor doubled the work days or fines for a few latecomers to court.

Panama City Beach is one of the nation’s top spring break destinations, usually attracting about 500,000 visitors over several weeks.

Spring break violators clog the courts and require mountains of paperwork to bring them back for hearings after they return to school.

The court program, which will run daily through April 4, is based on a similar Spring Break Court that has been conducted in Key West for several years.

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