Sunday, May 4, 2008

Taxpayers pick up tab for Grodin case

More than $300,000 spent since 2000


In the eight years since Gretchen Grodin's 11-month-old body was found inside a shallow grave in south Fort Myers, taxpayers have spent a small fortune pursuing justice.

According to research by The News-Press, taxpayers have spent more than $300,000 investigating, defending and prosecuting Justin Grodin, who is charged with Gretchen Grodin's death. The 34-year-old from North Fort Myers - the girl's father - faces the death penalty if found guilty. He is scheduled for trial May 27.

Getting accurate numbers to portray cost of the case to taxpayers is difficult because no one keeps those statistics. Court spokesman Ken Kellum said that's because there are too many cases, it's difficult and there's no benefit to the court system to do so.

But Lee County taxpayers have spent nearly $85,000 to house Grodin at the Lee County Jail since 2003 and Lee County Sheriff's detectives estimate they spent about $71,000 investigating the case.

Grodin's state-funded defense has cost more than $100,000 in fees related to attorneys, doctors, travel and investigation. Taxpayers spent another $57,000 to house him at Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee for 160 days, where he was receiving psychological treatment.

The case has faced delays in the past eight years, mainly because Grodin's competency has been questioned. Competency deals with one's understanding of the court system. He was found incompetent in 2005. A judge ruled last August he is competent to stand trial.

What's unclear about the costs is how much time, and therefore money, has been devoted to Grodin in the courthouse. Kellum said it's impossible to determine how much time judges, clerks, bailiffs and other court personnel have spent on more than two dozen Grodin hearings. On top of that, judges and staff attorneys have spent time out of court considering motions, case law and making rulings.

"I can just tell you it's expensive," Kellum said. "It's probably in the six figures if not the seven figures."

But, Kellum said, the judiciary has the difficult task of ensuring fairness and justice while trying to be economically prudent. That can be frustrating, he said.

"The objectives involved in a justice system - everybody's to get a fair and equal process," he said. "Those objectives are not always compatible with saving money. That makes it tough."

Death penalty attorneys in Fort Myers charge between $250 and $300 per hour, although the rate for court-appointed attorneys is $100 per hour. The state also sets spending limits for services such as investigation and doctors.

One of Grodin's two attorneys, J.L. "Ray" LeGrande, said Grodin's defense in the private world would have cost three- or four-times as much.

"He's getting the Chevy instead of the Cadillac," he said.


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