The judge presiding over John Goodman’s DUI-manslaughter case will question the jurors who convicted the Wellington polo mogul last month about potential misconduct during a Monday afternoon hearing.
The move comes after the defense had sought to remove Palm Beach Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath from the case and prevent him from making any more decisions concerning Goodman’s fate. Last week, Goodman’s defense team – including Miami attorney Roy Black – filed a motion asking Colbath to step down, alleging the judge is biased against their client.
Colbath denied that request, and the defense has now asked the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach to take up the matter. That court, however, likely won’t decide for several days whether the appeal has merit.
During a brief Monday morning hearing, Black asked Colbath not to go forward with the questioning of the jurors, but Assistant State Attorney Ellen Roberts wanted the questioning of the jurors to take place in the afternoon because they have already been inconvenienced.
The judge decided the questioning would take place as scheduled. In a series of motions after Goodman’s conviction, the defense alleged jurors discussed Goodman’s vast wealth and that those conversations tainted their deliberations. The defense wants the jurors to be asked a wide range of questions, but so far Colbath has limited it only to the issues surrounding Goodman’s wealth.
Goodman, 48, initially was supposed to be sentenced Monday afternoon on the DUI-manslaughter charge, which carries up to 30 years in prison. The sentencing has been indefinitely postponed while the defense seeks a new trial and litigates other issues. Goodman remains in the Palm Beach County Jail without bail.
A jury convicted Goodman of the first-degree felony on March 23 after less than six hours of deliberations, finding Goodman was intoxicated when his Bentley smashed into a car driven by Scott Wilson, 23, in February 2010, flipping Wilson’s car into a canal and drowning him.
The defense has filed motions seeking a new trial, to have Goodman released on bond while he appeals, to question jurors about the alleged misconduct and to have the judge step down.
For the most part, Colbath has denied the defense motions, including the motion for a new trial. “The court finds that both the sufficiency and weight of the evidence in this case supported the verdict rendered by the jury,” Colbath wrote.
The judge has not ruled on a motion for Goodman to be freed on bond, because a sentence has yet to be imposed.
On Thursday, the defense moved to have Colbath step down from the case, alleging bias on his part for allegedly concealing juror communications with his office from the defense. Colbath denied that motion Friday, and also denied a separate defense motion to disclose any communications from jurors, or anyone else, concerning alleged juror misconduct.
Colbath wrote that he doesn’t read any letters from jurors: “The court does not review communications from jurors. The court’s office practice is to forward copies of juror communications to counsel for both the state and defense and therefore the court is not personally aware as to what correspondence exists.”
The judge said that if the defense team wants to compel him to turn over juror communications with his office, they had to go to the appeals court or file a public records request, under Florida law, with court administrators.
The defense then filed a motion to stay all proceedings before Colbath, while they take his refusal to step down to the appeals court – the defense’s next step for getting Colbath off the case.
Goodman was driving his Bentley convertible south on 120th Avenue in Wellington, at 63 mph, and ran a stop sign at Lake Worth Road, smashing into Wilson’s Hyundai. The crash happened around 1 a.m. Feb. 12, 2010, after Goodman – the founder of Polo Club International Palm Beach – had been drinking at two Wellington watering holes that cater to the polo community.
After the crash, Goodman left the scene and his blood-alcohol level was measured at .177 percent, more than twice the legal limit, three hours later.
Goodman recently reached a $40 million settlement in a wrongful-death suit filed by Wilson’s parents, who will receive an additional $6 million in a separate settlement with one of the bar’s where Goodman was drinking.
In jail, records show, Goodman has been visited by his fiancee, Heather Hutchins, 42, who Goodman adopted in October, making her a beneficiary of a trust benefiting his minor children worth $300 million. He also has been visited by his lawyers and a psychologist.
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