Business owner Joe Mazzara is not happy with Judge Jack Helinger of Florida’s Sixth Judicial Circuit and felt that he needed to voice that opinion. Mr. Mazzara, who owns a restoration and remodeling company in Largo, set up a website calling for Judge Helinger to be removed from the bench, made bumper stickers with his website’s URL on them, and then proceeded to post them all over street signs in various parts of Pinellas County. As WFLA News Channel 8 reports, it’s because of those bumper stickers that the 67-year-old man now faces 12 counts of vandalism.
Why the negative opinion of Judge Helinger? The Tampa Bay Times writes that the judge oversaw part of Mr. Mazzara’s divorce case, a case that ended back in 2010. On his website, Mr. Mazzara wrote, in part:
Jack thinks because he is a judge , its o.k. to lie, manipulate court proceedings to favor who he wants to win and insults and ridicules the other litigant, ignores bona fide evidence, makes up his own “facts”, drags out proceedings with case management meeting after case management meeting after case management meeting ,ad infinitum, When Jack is presented with evidence, he ignores it and makes up his own evidence. And he gets away with it! We are going to put a stop to Jack.
When the bumper stickers, which read, “GET JACK HELINGER OFF THE BENCH.COM,” started showing up in the hundreds, police started to investigate who had actually applied them to street signs. “St. Petersburg detectives followed [Mazzara] and set up surveillance cameras to investigate him,” The Tampa Bay Times writes. “They dusted bumper stickers for his fingerprints and tracked him through the city's red-light violations database to try to place him at the locations where the bumper stickers were clustered.”
Mr. Mazzara, who admits he put up the bumper stickers, is angry that the police are coming after him, telling WFLA, “The moral here is they are trying to tell me, ‘Don't mess with a judge,’ and my reply is, ‘This is a first amendment issue.’” The St. Petersburg Police Department disagrees. “We just can't allow those stickers to remain up there, because if that practice is allowed to continue, then people utilize those as billboards,” spokesperson Mike Puetz told WFLA. “We can't, we have to keep these signs open, so people can see what the message is, because it is a safety issue.” While no official tally has been given as to how much it has cost to remove all the stickers, the Times notes that a little over $400 was to remove just 36 of them last October.
Judge Jack Helinger declined comment to the Tampa Bay Times. If convicted, Mr. Mazzara could face up to 60 days for each count of vandalism. Since there are 12 counts of vandalism, it means the 67-year-old could theoretically spend nearly 2 years in jail. It’s a possibility, since he has so far declined plea deals, telling WFLA, “I want my day in court.”