U.S. Supreme Court takes on local fisherman's case

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- A Holmes Beach commercial fisherman found out his case will be heard this fall before the U.S. Supreme Court.

John Yates may not look seem like a guy who has a date with the highest court in the land, but ever since a wildlife officer boarded his boat off Cortez seven years ago, Captain Yates' life has taken on water.

Inspectors believed that among the 3,000 fish on board, 72 were under-sized grouper. But when Yates came back to shore, they only found 69. Yates was then charged with destroying evidence.

And here's the hook: Rather than charge him with a fine and restrictions, he was prosecuted under the federal 'anti shredding' statute that was developed in the wake of the Enron scandal and spent 30 days in jail.

"He did admit he had the fish, but it was the level the government carried it out against him, that was shocking," said professional colleague and friend Karen Bell of the A.P. Bell Fish Company in Cortez.

Bell is amazed the case has gone so far. "Because he was treated like a criminal when we thought it was more of a civil issue," she recalls.

Others around Cortez like a vacationer from the Czech Republic are surprised the Supreme Court doesn't have bigger fish to fry.

"I don't believe it. Why would they do it, shouldn't they be catching a different kind of fish?" asked Jan Hoken.

Yates' public defender, John Badalementi, of the Middle District of Florida, refused to comment or to allow his client to comment.