Judge agrees to hear 
‘derelict vessel’ case

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John Maguire III smiles after his March 7 pretrial conference in a Manatee County courtroom. Assistant public defender, Rebecca Degel, talks behind him.

A derelict vessel case veered off an ordinary course March 7 in 12th Circuit Court.

Clad in a Bud Light T-shirt, jeans and white fishing boots, bait monger John Maguire III stood in the courtroom as his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Rebecca Degel, addressed the court.

Degel asked Judge Mark Singer to set a hearing for her Jan. 23 motion alleging prosecutorial misconduct for reneging on a plea deal.

Degel’s motion asks the court to dismiss the case and to order the 12th Circuit State Attorney’s Office to perform according to its plea bargain.

Degel told the judge, if necessary, she would press the case to trial. Four trial dates in the Maguire case have been set and canceled since September 2016.

Singer called the Maguire case “well-known,” referenced testimony given by Manatee County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Hearn and agreed to a hearing.

At a table in the courtroom, two county prosecutors remained silent.

Maguire lives aboard a sailboat near the Cortez Bridge and, in 2015, sold bait from a platform vessel that he tethered to his sailboat.

Hearn cited Maguire’s 19-foot bait boat in April 2016. According to the citation, the vessel was partially submerged, had holes in the hull and cap and violated a state law against storing, leaving or abandoning a derelict vessel.

Florida law defines a derelict vessel as being “in a wrecked, junked or substantially dismantled condition upon any public waters of the state.”

To support the prosecutorial misconduct allegation, Degel’s motion states Maguire was told at a July 2016 hearing by “representatives of the state” what was “necessary to secure the dismissal of the charges against him,” including the installation of a motor and repairs to render the vessel operable.

Relying on the proffered deal, Maguire completed repairs and provided a video showing the vessel afloat and operational, according to the motion.

The motion also states one prosecutor emailed Degel in September 2016, indicating he had “watched the video and it looks good.”

In an Oct. 14, 2016, email, Assistant State Attorney Lauren P. Benson advised that the state would drop the case on the next court date.

That changed after an Oct. 31, 2016, email from Hearn stating the boat was derelict when it was cited, according to the motion.

In the motion, Degel alleges the state “abused its prosecutorial discretion by continuing a prosecution despite having indicated in writing that the charges would be dismissed.” The motion argues the state instead followed “the instructions of a police officer with a personal and vested interest in the prosecution.”

Acknowledging a dismissal for prosecutorial misconduct is an “extreme sanction,” Degel stated it was within the discretion of the court and appropriate in Maguire’s case.

Responding to Degel’s nine-page motion, Benson filed a one-page motion Feb. 2 asking the court to strike it, stating Maguire “did not comply with the terms of the agreement the state extended in prior plea negotiations.”

The next court date for Maguire on the docket is 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

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