Did 'The Factor' Bring Down Judge Harry Rapkin?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," April 23, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY HOST:  In the "Factor Follow-Up" segment tonight, as we told you in the "Talking Points" memo, 63-year old Harry Rapkin (search), the judge who allowed the accused killer of Carlie Bruia to develop after a probation violation, is quitting is the bench.

Joining us now is Tampa is Derrick Byrd, a criminal defense attorney in Sarasota, who has often appeared before the judge .

So what's your reaction to him quitting.  Why did he do it?

DERRICK BYRD, CRIMINAL DFENSE ATTORNEY:  I think that he was really pressured a lot by the media.  I think that he probably felt that he would not be re-elected.  Although the negative publicity he has gotten from not your show but local media, national media I think as swayed a lot of voters.  A lot of it is I think is unfair criticism that he's taken, but he must have felt personally that he was not going to be re-elected.  He didn't want to drag himself and his family through it.  And so he's chosen to resign effective I think in January.

O'REILLY:  You know, as far as we know, we're the only national program who investigated this guy -- investigated this guy, I should say.  And you're telling me the local media followed our lead down there and started to pound him?

BYRD:  It seemed that way to me that way.  I mean, I followed what was going on, of course, locally because that's something I live in every day.  And it seemed the local media seemed to follow your criticism not to give you some undue flattery, but that's actually what happened.  And the local media did start to kind of get off his back as time went on.

But certainly in the beginning when all of the attention was on the Carlie Brucia case and Joe Smith, he really took a beating.  I mean, he was crucified and again, I think a lot of it was unfair.

O'REILLY:  All right.  I know.  And we'll get to that in a minute,  But you know, let me tell you, we've investigated this guy pretty thoroughly.  And I wouldn't do anything that was unfair.  And I don't know this guy like you do.

I have to do it from a totally distant position, but his record's  abysmal.  And we'll get to it in a minute.

Now what about the folks in the community down there?  Do they themselves -- Carlie, you said might not be re-elected if he ran.  Did they turn against him as well?

BYRD:  You know, there's two different communities.  The legal community, I think, was pretty disappointed that he chose this  decision.  A lot of people I know called to encourage him not to do this.  I personally don't socialize with a lot of attorneys.  I socialized with non-attorneys.  A lot of non-attorney friends of mine who followed just the media accounts before they asked my opinion, I think would have said to you that they would not have elected him.

O'REILLY:  And the regular folks?

BYRD:  You know, regular folks, I mean on most of my friends, I think are regular folks.  People that I know, I was born and raised in Sarasota.  A lot of regular folks were swayed by the media assassination of him.  And I don't think they would re-elect him.

BYRD:  All right.  Now counselor, the assassination word is just not true.  Let me make my case, and then you can rebut it.

First of all, your own bar down there ranks them, you know, second to last among 28 judges.  So that's their evaluation, not mine.  Had nothing to do with this.

The second thing is in addition to the Smith case, where he  obviously let out a violent drug addict, all right, he did the same thing in the 14-year-old Christie Day case who was murdered in Sarasota.  And the suspect, Richard Lee Walker, came before Rapkin, all right, this was in 1995 for a parole violation.

Same thing that Smith did after testing positive for cocaine and marijuana.  Lee, a known convicted sex offender, he let him out again.  And Lee is now the primary suspect.  They haven't been able to charge him in the Christie Degg murder.

So this is like over and over and over.  And then the Bradenton paper says he did it 50 times.  Now with all of that information, all of that factual evidence, you still say this is an assassination?

BYRD:  I say this.  The man has probably made over 100,000 decisions in the last 10 years, decisions every single day that he has to make.  And over the 100,000 decisions people pick one or two decisions he may have made...

O'REILLY:  Two dead girls.

BYRD:  Well, come on, now.

O'REILLY:  No, wait a minute.  Not a lot of judges...whoa, whoa, whoa.

BYRD:  Hold on.

O'REILLY:  Counselor?

BYRD:  I gave you a chance.  Give me a chance.  I take issue when you say he let Joseph Smith out of jail.  He was given a piece of paper that said Joseph Smith didn't pay court costs.  He responded to that piece of paper.  Give me evidence that he did not have the money to pay these court cost others or that he had the money to pay these court costs.  And then the probation department never respond back to him.

O'REILLY:  Counselor, the probation department denies that.  OK?  And he knew Smith's rap sheet.  He also knew that he was a drug addict.  OK?  And he let -- of course he's not going to be able to pay his court costs.  He doesn't have any money.

BYRD:  But Bill...

O'REILLY:  He's buying drugs with it.

BYRD:  Billy, follow the law on that.

O'REILLY:  All right.

BYRD:  You can't...

O'REILLY:  You say that all day long.

BYRD:  I know, but you can't violate someone's probation for not paying court costs, unless they have the ability to...

O'REILLY:  Everybody that I have talked to in Florida said that judge could have put Smith back in prison, no problem.

BYRD:  If he would have done...

O'REILLY:  It was a discretionary decision.

BYRD:  If he would have done so, I can promise you as a criminal defense attorney who deal with these issues every day, Joseph Smith would have gotten out of jail the next day.

O'REILLY:  I doubt it.  And I can promise you this.  If he had done so, Carlie Brucia would be alive.

BYRD:  No.

O'REILLY:  But you don't have a lot of judges in this country  with two dead girls laying right in front of them because of probation offenders they let out.  You don't have that, counselor.  It's very unusual.

BYRD:  Bill, they've never arrested Richard Walker for killing.

O'REILLY:  Come on.  You know the situation.

BYRD:  They never -- but they don't have enough probable cause to arrest Richard Walker.  And I would tend to -- honestly, I would tend to say looking back on the Richard Walker case, you have a stronger argument that Rapkin may have done something wrong there.  I think the Joseph Smith thing is very overblown.  I don't think that he did anything wrong in that.

O'REILLY:  All right, well, we appreciate your defense of the judge.  He ought to have somebody like you defending him because I just think he was way on the wrong track, but he's out.  We're  glad and we appreciate you coming on, counselor.  Thanks very much.

You're welcome.

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