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Published On: Wed, Oct 12th, 2016

Judge Craig Villanti’s caution, great attitude should give voters confidence for retention

The arrest of New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church’s Joe Hardie made headlines and Villanti’s refusal of the prosecutors’ unwarranted appeal proves a strong fortitude for justice.

Hardie was found guilty in 2013 of grand theft of more than $100,000, scheming to defraud, money laundering more than $20,000 and two counts of money laundering over $300.

The convicted pastor had been using the church’s benevolence fund (funds intended to help the community’s needy) as “an extension of his personal checking account,” the trial court found.

The Legdger noted that the sentence handed down “was below the state’s minimum sentencing rules, prompting an appeal by prosecutors contesting the “downward departure” of the sentence.

Chief Judge Craig Villanti, with judges Darryl Casanueva and Edward LaRose in concurrence, affirmed the trial court’s conviction.

“Hardie requested and received this downward departure sentence based on his claim that the church’s need for restitution outweighed the need for his imprisonment as allowed by (state law),” the appellate panel wrote. “However, because Hardie failed to present competent, substantial evidence to support his request, the trial court abused its discretion in imposing the sentence.”

“In sum, this evidence did not establish that the church had a need for restitution,” the appellate court wrote. “Instead, it showed that the church was willing, in its Christian spirit, to forego restitution completely. Further, the evidence failed to establish that any potential need for restitution could be satisfied only if Hardie were not incarcerated.”

DISPATCH VERDICT: Villanti sees “right the wrong” and making restitution is more important than making an example of someone. This case could have easily gone the other way, but the verdict shows real character of the justices.

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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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  1. Adrienn Wiebe says:

    Thanks for posting such a detailed and thoughtful examination of Villanti record since he was appointment to Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeals. This article and the several case studies it reviewed provided a well-substantiated argument for retaining Judge Villantii in office.

    It has been difficult to find good reviews of the records of the 13 judges up for retention on the Florida ballot this election, but this was definitely the most helpful in my opinion. I really appreciated that this article cited cases and let them speak for themselves (clarifying when emphasis or opinions were added by the author).

    Great article – definitely solidified my decision to vote to retain Judge Villanti.

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