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Judge Removing Himself From Cases Because of Tragic Loss

6:26 PM, Jul 20, 2004   |    comments
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By Darryl Tardy First Coast News JACKSONVILLE, FL -- He has suffered a loss that every parent fears. Now a local judge says he'll step aside from trials involving people accused of causing deadly crashes. The Honorable Robert K. Mathis has been a fixture on the bench for 21 years. Judge Mathis says he had to deal with terrible cases. "I've dealt with a lot of people who lost children and I thought that I was fairly empathetic with them. But, until it happens to you, you just don't understand the impact," the judge said. Judge Mathis has dealt with this firsthand. Last March, his son David and his new wife Mary Kathryn, both 23, died in an car accident. The couple had been married for five days. The newlyweds were returning home from their honeymoon when a truck hit their car near Titusville. They were both killed. Judge Mathis said the crash was so bad, "The children had to be cremated. So we didn't have bodies for the funeral. And that makes it very difficult for everybody involved." Since the accident, he's changed the way he handled certain cases. "If I were charged with DUI manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter and I knew that the judge handling my case had just lost his son and his daughter-in-law in a traffic crash that was not their fault, I would be real nervous about whether or not I was going to get a fair trial," Judge Mathis said. Take the case of Pedro Mercado. He was charged in February for a drunk-driving accident that killed a 12-yr-old boy on his bike. Judge Mathis took himself off the Mercado case along with several others. Maureen Christine, an Assistant State Attorney in St. Johns County, says she wouldn't ask Judge Mathis to be removed from any cases, but because of the accident, the decision might be better for him. "Losing a child and then having to sit on a trial of another child lost in a traffic fatality, that might be real hard to do," said Christine. Judge Mathis admits it would be hard. But, he just wants to treat everyone fairly. "I think it was better just to tell them that if you have this kind of case, I'll be glad to step aside and have another judge assigned," he said. Judge Mathis is also taking himself off cases involving Winn-Dixie. The driver of the truck accused of causing the accident worked for the company. Private attorney's are also asking for Judge Mathis to step aside on some cases. The cases are being assigned to two circuit court judges. Two wrongful death suits have been filed by the parents of David and Mary Kathryn Mathis. Prosecutors are still considering whether to file vehicular homicide charges against the truck driver blamed for the fatal crash.

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