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Judge Threatened to Put a "Hit" on County Commissioner for Dating His Estranged Wife

HERNANDO – A Fifth Judicial Circuit Judge was recently under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for allegedly threatening his estranged wife and the man she is dating.

R News first reported the incident ( CLICK HERE ) on September 5th, after sources revealed that Fifth Circuit Judge Joel Fritton was allegedly threatening his estranged wife, Maria Fritton, at her residence in the Brighton Place subdivision. R News soon learned that current Hernando County Commissioner Steve Champion was also the target of threats, after the judge discovered that Champion was dating Maria. Joel and Maria have been living in separate, independently owned residences for over a year, and Steve only began dating Maria within the last few months.

When R News inquired with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) about the investigation, we were told that the case had been turned over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Then-attorney Joel Fritton was hired in 2013 to serve as HCSO's in-house counsel and was appointed in 2021 as a Fifth Judicial Circuit Judge, which includes Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, and Sumter Counties.

Last week, FDLE finally released a full report into the investigation, which revealed disturbing comments made by Judge Fritton.

On September 6th, Maj. Lakin contacted FDLE Agent Edith Neal and provided a statement of facts regarding the incident. Agent Neal writes the following in her report:

HCSO received a call for service regarding a verbal dispute at the residence of Maria Fritton located at Hernando County, Florida. The verbal dispute involved Joel and Marie Fritton. During the verbal dispute, Maria called Steven Champion and put him on speaker phone so Steven could hear. After Steven got off the phone with Maria, he called the HCSO and advised there was a verbal dispute. Steven requested the HCSO respond to the residence to check on Maria. HCSO arrived on scene, spoke with Maria and obtained a sworn written statement regarding the verbal dispute. Joel had left the residence prior to the HCSO arriving. Major Lakin further advised that Joel was accused of threatening Steven and that Joel stated he had put a "hit" out on Steven but cancelled the "hit" on Sunday. Steven also called Sheriff Al Nienhuis about this incident.

Neal says that Sheriff Nienhuis requested FDLE's assistance, due to a potential conflict of interest between the parties involved and to ensure an unbiased outcome.

While on a phone call with Champion, Maria says Judge Fritton threatened her and Champion by stating, "I'm coming for you and yours." He goes on to say, "Don't you know with one phone call I can (illegible). I talked to them this weekend and called it [the hit] off."

Maria goes on to explain, "This isn't the first time he has made threats towards someone close to me or my circle." She goes on to say that Judge Fritton warned her that no one would believe her complaint and that, "I have the Sheriff and Deputies in my pocket." Maria further states that she could not live with herself if something happened to someone because of her.

Under the alleged threats made by Judge Fritton, Maria caved to her fears and on September 7th she contacted Agent Neal and asked to "amend" her statement. Maria advised that Joel, Steven and herself had spoken and resolved their issues and they just wanted to move forward and not pursue it any further.

Agent Neal also spoke with Attorney Jeff Cario, who is representing Judge Fritton in his divorce proceedings. Cario advised that Joel would not be providing a statement regarding the verbal dispute.

Without a cooperating victim/witness, Agent Neal had no choice but to close the investigation.

It is unknown at this time if Chief Judge Daniel B. Merritt or the Judicial Qualifications Committee will consider taking action against Judge Fritton for his alleged domestic violence and abuse of power.

Ironically, Judge Fritton presided over Family Court, which includes Domestic Violence Cases in Citrus County. Just days after the incident on September 5th, Judge Fritton took over a portion of Citrus County's felony docket.

R News will report any new developments on this case.

This report is sponsored in part by Dura Guard Paver Sealing, Savages Bar & Grill, Rufus Roof and Home, Affordable Buildings, and Fund & Grow

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