New judge tackles new kind of law

The last time he worked inside a Hernando County courtroom he was working to keep a convicted killer on the path toward lethal injection.

Barely more than four weeks ago, then-Assistant State Attorney Anthony Tatti was in front of Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing for a motion hearing.

He convicted Richard E. Shere Jr. for the 1987 Christmas Day murder of Drew Paul Snyder. On March 10, he argued to keep him on death row.

Tatti’s job has changed.

Soon he will don the black robe and preside over cases as a circuit judge.

Instead of felony cases, Tatti will handle the probate docket, along with mortgage foreclosures, domestic violence injunctions, nonjury civil cases and Jimmy Ryce hearings. The latter allows for certain sex offenders to undergo treatment following their prison terms.

Tatti takes over for Rushing, who retired March 31.

His first day on the job was Monday, but his first day on the bench will be April 18 when the docket change becomes official.

Looking like someone fighting the fatigue of a long work week, Tatti leaned back in his leather chair Friday afternoon and took a few sips from a can of Coke Zero. He still doesn’t have a full-time assistant and he admits he has a lot to learn about the new job.

“I’m still getting used to that,” after he heard someone address him as “your honor.”

“I’ll be working in areas of the law I haven’t practiced in,” said Tatti. “That’s going to be the biggest challenge.”

His office, located on the fourth floor of the Hernando County Courthouse, is next to Chief Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. It’s also located next to the courtroom where Rushing presided over criminal cases.

Prior to becoming a judge, Tatti was a prosecutor for 22 years. He spent three years before that as an assistant public defender. From 1989 to 1997, he was an assistant state attorney in Citrus and Hernando counties.

Tatti said the day he was appointed he would take any docket the chief judge assigned him. He had mastered the criminal side of the law and thought there was a good possibility he would land that docket – especially considering he was replacing Rushing.

Merritt instead chose to reshuffle the deck.

Merritt was in meetings all day Friday and was unavailable for comment.

His assistant said he still had not signed the document assigning Rushing’s criminal docket. Various attorneys and others in the courthouse said Merritt intended to appoint himself to the criminal docket.

Merritt moved his son, Daniel Merritt Sr., over to the criminal docket last year after Circuit Judge Jack Springstead retired.

That means the two judges handling the felony dockets in Hernando County come from the same family.

Judges are elected to the bench, but when one relinquishes his or her seat before the term ends, the governor appoints a replacement.

It is up to the chief judge to assign dockets.

Tatti lives in Marion County. He said he doesn’t intend to move. He lived in the Ocala area the entire time he was a prosecutor in Brooksville. He doesn’t think he’ll grow tired of the commute.

To him, the area hasn’t changed much. It’s maintained its small-town appeal.

“It’s very welcoming here,” said Tatti. “It’s been like home. In the end, it’s a great place to start a new career … I’m coming full circle.”

New judge tackles new kind of law
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