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DEAR PETER ...

The following email, entitled "Media Inquiry", was sent to Peter Weinstein and copied to his JA last Friday, April 11th.  Absent some initial pleasantries and a few typos, the email has been reprinted in its entirety.  As of the time of this post, Weinstein has failed to answer any of the questions posed, despite an indicated deadline of 5:00 PM, April 14th.

With the 17th Judicial Circuit backsliding to depths not seen since 2007, it's clear something is drastically wrong.  And while JAABLOG may be partly responsible for giving the gregarious and likeable chief judge a free pass over the last few years, we think it's high time Weinstein answers to the public he serves. 

Post a comment if you have any thoughts or suggestions for improvement.  JAABLOG believes it's not too late for Weinstein to salvage the 17th's sinking performance and reputation, if he decides to send a strong message to both the legal and general communities, and be something more than a caretaker of the abysmal status quo who seemingly just wants to keep everyone happy.  He may not have to answer our questions, but he certainly will answer to the judges who read your comments next February, when he seeks his third term as their chief ...

The email:
 

Peter:

(R)ecent developments have some people theorizing there is a lack of leadership in the 17th Circuit.  As I know you would be the first to admit, the buck stops with the chief judge, and with morale at an all time low, and potential serious fallout looming as the RRA scandal threatens to further darken the clouds over the courthouse, I would like to ask your opinion on the following issues before I publish.
 
1.) Reliance on un-elected, senior judges filling in for elected judges.  There seems to be an unprecedented reliance on senior judges in the 17th, while many full time judges seem under-utilized, or unwilling to pick up the slack.  I understand the seniority system and reluctance to transfer judges from their long standing assignments, but clearly some type of reform is needed.  Are you willing to restructure division assignments and the judicial staffing of the satellite courthouses to ensure judges are working full days, and if not, why?  Are you willing to take action in other ways besides reassignment against under-performing judges? Also, is there some reason why you haven't personally picked up a division full time, and also asked (Admin judge) Sharon Zeller to do the same?  Will you allow me to look at your schedule and Sharon's and (Admin judge) Jack Tuter's for the last six months without filing a public records request?
 
2.) New courthouse design flaws.  How involved are you in the construction project, and what type of demands does this place on your schedule?  If you are actively involved, can you discuss some of the design flaws and why the judges' concerns weren't remedied?  What are you doing to protect courthouse staffers who have been told they will have to park in a garage unprotected from the elements once the new building is operational? (CLARIFICATION: the new garage is not connected to the new courthouse by a covered walkway) Why are judges entitled to covered parking, when every courthouse worker is as important as the next, and will you evenly distribute or rotate covered parking to all workers?
 
3.) Diversity.  The most recent census data  shows the African-American and Latin populations of Broward to be each around 30%, yet those populations are pathetically under-represented on the bench.  Judges are allowed to involve themselves in the appointment process, and many believe you may have tried to help Arlene Backman.  Did you try to help her?  And what have you done during your tenure as chief judge to actively promote diversity on the bench?  What are you doing now to ensure minority applicants and appointments now that there are two county seats coming up, specifically Merrigan and Murphy?
 
4.) Judicial substance abuse concerns.  What are you doing to educate and help judges concerning substance abuse, and to protect the public from judges who may be battling addictions to drugs and alcohol?  When racial insensitivity issues arose during prior administrations, programs were implemented to educate and help all the judges.  Why hasn't this been done here, particularly when other judges besides the ones in the news are also rumored to be dealing with substance abuse issues?  Will you ask the judges to submit to voluntary drug testing, to protect the community from further embarrassing episodes which tear at the basic, underlying integrity of the judicial system?  And regarding Gisele, which experts did you consult before determining to place her back in drug court back in January, and is it true you spoke with her lawyer David Bogenschutz before making that decision?
 
5.) Term limits for the CJ.  You have previously indicated that you will be seeking another term as chief judge.  Why?  Isn't four years enough for any circuit, particularly after the well documented troubles here in the past that many believe were the result of having the same chief judge for too long?  What is it you wish to accomplish in another term, and why haven't you implemented reforms already besides the much needed three judge panel for civil county to circuit appeals?  

SS: Broward courthouse parking rate 'really out of line' (April 14)

Weinstein said he didn't want to be critical of the county. After all, they're building a new county courthouse and two new garages, for employees and for judges. But he said $8 an hour in the public garage just east of the courthouse on Southeast Third Avenue on the south side of the New River, is "really out of line."

... "I think asking people to pay that kind of money to come to court is very significant," Weinstein said. "On the other hand, I also recognize all the expenses the county has."

                           
 LEADERSHIP?

Carmel Cafiero: Chief Judge Ross monitoring slacker judge's dockets (2007)

If Pope Francis can reform the Catholic Church,



... can't Broward find a leader to reform its judiciary?

60 Minutes: Spurning tradition to bring humility and humanity to the papacy

DBR Profile: Carlos Rodriguez

NYT: Sweeping Ruling on Domestic Violence

LA Times: In North Korea, meth is offered as casually as a cup of tea

LA Times: LAPD officers tampered with in-car recording equipment

SS: JQC recommends removal of Broward Judge Laura Watson

BBeat: Kasen gets PBA endorsement

DBR: So long, Professor Rogow ...

SS: Mickey Rocque keeps kicking Sunrise PD to the curb

NT: Are you a racist? More Blacks Ticketed for Seat Belts in Fort Lauderdale, PD Says

UPDATE/DAN LEWIS WEIGHS IN

Dan Lewis, CEO of Strategic Technologies & Research, has been a strong supporter of Laura Watson not only during her election campaign, but throughout the JQC proceedings.  The message below is by Dan in support of Watson. 

On another note, Dan let slip there are some "surprises" coming up regarding the 2014 election cycle in both Broward and Palm Beach counties.  He isn't naming names just yet, but states two sitting judges in both circuits will be receiving opposition, not including Lynn Rosenthal.  Lewis is checking with the potential candidates, and hopes to be able to at least unmask the Palm Beach lawyers as early as next week.

In other 2014 news, Jahra McLawrence confirmed this morning that he is running against Rosenthal, and will be filing next week.  In a county where minority judges are typically targeted by Whites, McLawrence is taking a bold step by turning the tables, and he will need your support. 

Also, the deadline to apply for the county court vacancy created by Ed Merrigan's appointment to the circuit is May 5th.  The JNC will be highly scrutinized in picking replacements for both Merrigan and Joe Murphy, who is set to retire at the end of July.  Rick Scott has yet to appoint a Black person to the bench in Broward, and community leaders have been actively recruiting qualified applicants to put in for both upcoming county slots.  It should be interesting.

Lastly, Mike Satz issued the following statement through PIO Ron Ishoy last week, when asked whether he would permit his qualified minority lawyers to apply for judgeships:

"It's Mr. Satz's job to make sure he has the best lawyers on staff to conduct the state's business.  He does not, however, discourage anyone from seeking a judgeship."

And without further ado, here's Dan Lewis on yesterday's JQC ruling:
______________________________________________________________________

There are two intertwined threads of this case.  The first is the alleged violation of FL Bar Rules with its associated facts, and the second is the JQC’s process of arriving at its recommendations.

Alleged Violations

The alleged violations of bar rules involve a legal service contract with clients which provides for 100% client damage recovery, including interest without any set off for attorney’s fees or costs – and provides for the attorney’s ability to collect their fees & costs from court awards or defendant negotiated settlement of attorney’s fees only.  Although all the affected clients received 100% of their claimed damages plus interest, the Bar and JQC have taken the position that these client contracts were unethical.  Judge Watson disputes this and was prevented from admitting evidence of court attorney’s fees awards, or the work that was performed on each client’s case by the JQC panel.  The Bar/JQC’s position was that the client agreements were a form of contingency agreement, which they objectively were not.

The second alleged violation of bar rules involved disclosure to clients.  Here, the JQC suggests that beyond the 100% of damages plus interest the clients were entitled to contractually, they also were entitled to full disclosure of the attorney’s fees and costs not only in their own case, but in all the related cases.  Not only were the clients not entitled to this information contractually or ethically because the clients had had no standing either financially or otherwise in the attorney’s fees or costs, especially after they received full compensation – but, it would have been ethically improper to share information about another client.  The JQC in reaching to find a basis for its predetermined recommendation attempted to make individual but similar cases into a broad class action – which it was not.
 
The third alleged violation of bar rules involved Judge Watson’s promise to defend a settlement agreement.  The JQC alleged hypothetically that if required to defend the settlement, then Judge Watson would somehow breach a fiduciary relationship with her clients.  Not only has this not happened, but logically the assertion is absurd because, again – the Clients did not claim nor were entitled to more than 100% of their damages plus interest, which is what they received.

Interestingly, none of these three alleged violations were explicit in either the JQC’s notice of investigation, nor in the JQC’s notice of formal charges, and did not become apparent until the JQC’s closing argument at the final hearing.  Had Judge Watson been put on notice that these were the actual charges, she could and would have had a clear defense for each of these alleged violations.

JQC’s Process

Anyone who has followed this case knows that Judge Watson has objected to the JQC’s process, which is more like a “star” chamber then a deliberative process among professionals.  She has objected to the manner in which accused Judges are treated and how they are prevented from mounting a defense, receiving due process, equal treatment, and how the JQC’s alleged misconduct can and in this case did occur without consequence or oversight.

For a particular discussion of these process matters, I would refer you to Judge Watson’s DEC action filed with the Florida Supreme Court prior to the JQC’s published recommendations.  Although a new Florida Supreme Court action, this case was docketed in the JQC case area.  It can be found here, here, and here.

I would encourage every judge and attorney to read this filed case.  

The disciplinary process for attorneys and judges through the BAR and JQC is completely dysfunctional, and horribly flawed.  Its duel speeds of what I call railroad or whitewash must be addressed and stopped.  

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the Watson case will have a significant impact on the professionals in our judicial system.  How the Supreme Court of Florida acts on the serious issues before it today will determine the character of our future Florida courts.

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing”.  Judge Watson is standing up for the Judiciary while others duck and hide.  An independent judiciary is our best defense against tyranny.  

Dan Lewis

Coming Soon - An Open Letter to Broward's Judiciary ...

REMOVAL!

A nice scoop by the DBR's Adolfo Pesquera, who received an early copy of the JQC's findings concerning Laura Watson.

From
yesterday's article:

"Judges are held to stricter ethical standards than lawyers because more rectitude is expected of them," (Judge) Evander said. "Judge Watson's present lack of understanding of the rules regulating the Florida Bar, and the most basic ethical obligations imposed on lawyers, amply demonstrates 'present unfitness' to serve."

Now it's appeal time, and ultimately a decision on Watson's fate by the Supreme Court.

We'll post the opinion when the Supreme Court JQC website link  publishes it ...

*UPDATE* - JQC FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS  (41 pages)


 

JAABLOG WELCOME

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A question of leadership ...

Coming Soon: RRA Update: some judges too?; McLawrence v. Rosenthal?;
Scherer out, Merrigan in to Criminal?; Blacks Will Apply.

IN FLUX: Merrigan and Scherer back in play? Developing ...
(Berman covering county Merrigan & county Robinson starting May 1st)

10 YEARS FOR LIVOTI

A witness says Tony Livoti was sentenced to ten years this morning in Federal Court for his role in the Mutual Benefits scheme, following conviction after trial.  If he completes a drug and alcohol program, a year will be shaved off the sentence.  We're told he could have pled to somewhere around three years before trial, with the feds asking for thirty years today in court.

Another sad day for Broward's legal community ...

Herald: Livoti sentenced

Former Broward Circuit Judge Robert Zack called Livoti a “lawyer’s lawyer” with “impeccable” credentials. “His good deeds far outweigh this mistake,’’ Zack told Scola, “though I do admit it was a grievous mistake.”

BBeat: Claudia Robinson gets key endorsements

BBeat: John Curcio to be honored at Innocence Project bash

*DBR: This Drug Court Judge Is Going To Rehab* (4/3)

The (JQC) would discuss the judge's willingness to enter a contract with Florida Lawyers Assistance Inc., a Pompano Beach-based nonprofit formed by Florida Supreme Court mandate to identify and assist attorneys with substance abuse, mental health and other disorders.

*
SS: Manager and analyst at Broward crime lab resign * (4/3)

BSO CRIME LAB CANNABIS TESTING PROTOCOL

Evidence Before Testing:



Evidence After Testing:



(positive for cannabinoids if no one 
remembers to fill out the lab report)

Coming Soon - More Corruption!

MONDAY NOTES

"Because I have faith in people" - that's Peter Weinstein to Bob Norman, defending his decision to keep Gisele Pollack in drug court, earlier today.  The chief judge also confirmed Gisele's relapse, and stated professionals said it was ok to keep her riding herd over a bunch of druggies after incident #1.  Interesting stuff, since we can remember criminal division judge Weinstein often having little faith in Defendants and their experts looking for alternative drug rehab sentences, way back when.  Oh well.  In any event, Gisele appears to finally be getting the long term care she deserves, while Broward's tarnished drug court limps along without a full time leader, credibility be damned ...

2014 election update - Lynn Rosenthal and Steve Feren to be challenged?  No names just yet, since we took an oath.  But things could get interesting soon ...

94 and there's so much more - meet Jorge Castro, born October 14th, 1919.  Poor 94 year old Jorge must have mixed up his meds, since he was booked into the Broward County Jail last weekend, accused of unruly, felony level behavior.  A warning to all you 70-somethings: Jorge is out and about, although Pretrial Services is keeping a watchful eye.  Let's just hope they don't have cataracts too ...

Matt, Meet Tom - everyone knows Matt Destry has a real thing for collecting court costs and supervision fees, but at least he never took it as far as Pinellas County's Tom Freeman.  Freeman came up with something he called "the sentencing path", recently obstructed by an appeals court.  Apparently broke ass people were kept on Freeman Road longer than statutorily permitted probationary periods, in addition to sometimes being stuck in holding cells with their phones after a visit to court, encouraged to reach out and find the funds they owed from friends and family.  Read all about it here, via the Tampa Bay Times.

FDMC confirmations - add Michael Entin and Jeff Harris to the First Degree Murder Club.  Any others?  Post a comment ...

Coming Soon - What are Bill Scherer and Peter Weinstein doing to encourage judicial diversity in Broward?; Jeff Marcus makes a molehill out of a mountain; Finkelstein v. Speiser.

FL Supreme Court: Court Interpreter crackdown

SS: Controversy erupts over 'double dipping'

SS: Broward's 'Felony Lane Gang' spreads crime across U.S. (Thanks, Mike)

SS: Want To Be A Judge? Who Do You Know? (1997)

RETIRED!

A BSO Crime Lab rep just told us Jim Ongley, former Director, and Randy Hilliard, former chemist, are "retired" as of last Friday.

No info on who the new boss is.  We'll be sure to follow-up on that issue, and as to why so many drug cases are stacked up for testing.  As everyone knows, lots of folks on no bond VOP holds are being cut loose at the 40 day mark when new law drug allegations are the violation, since lots of new drug arrests in general have been delayed for case filing purposes because lab results aren't available.  Obviously some kind of overhaul in the wake of the recent Kelli McDonald scandal is underway, so stay tuned for more info.

Lastly, thanks to "Anonymous" for posting the tip on Ongley and Hilliard under GETTING FUNCKY.  And if you also want to leave a tidbit, that's the way to do it, since the Anonymous Tip Box stopped working years ago.

DBR: Get high on Elijah Williams' mind

NAME GAME

 Bill Scherer

Diversity in Broward catches a break: judge maker Bill Scherer is a
Judicial Diversity Task Force member! 

Check out all the members of the Florida Bar's newly created Judicial Diversity Panel below.  These are the folks who really can make a big difference over the next couple months while Ed Merrigan's county seat is filled.

From The Florida Bar News:

" ... The President’s Task Force to Study the Enhancement of Diversity on the Bench and the Judicial Nominating Commissions will work to determine why diverse candidates are not applying for appointment to the JNCs or for judgeships ... "

Here are all of the judicial diversity warriors making up the task force:


Frank P. Scruggs II; Cynthia G. Angelos ; Robert A. Butterworth; Cassandra Larkin Denmark ; Linda Bond Edwards; Hubert L. Grimes ; Paul C. Huck Jr; Corali Lopez-Castro ; William R. Scherer; William J. Schifino ; Robert Vaughan .

And here is some interesting language from the statute  governing JNC's, which really should be applied criteria for actual judicial appointments as well:

" ... (4) 
In making an appointment, the Governor shall seek to ensure that, to the extent possible, the membership of the (JNC) reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, as well as the geographic distribution, of the population within the territorial jurisdiction of the court for which nominations will be considered ... "

Your local JNC Members, who, like the Judicial Diversity Task Forcers, need to hear from everyone about the lack of diversity in the 17th:

Jamie Finizio-Bascombe; D. David Keller; William G. McCormick; Zachariah P. Zachariah Jr.; Georgette Sosa Douglass; Fred E. Karlinsky; Kevin P. Tynan; Belinda M. Keiser; Terrence Patrick O'Connor.

Now check out the list of nearby old timers looking to keep their judicial tickets current.  They say comments on fitness are encouraged, deadline April 15th.  The senior judges:

Review Board Four (Judge Dorian K. Damoorgian, Chair, 561-242-2033): Nelson E. Bailey, Fred J. Berman, William A. Bollinger, Eli Breger, Richard B. Burk, Miette K. Burnstein, Marc A. Cianca, Roger B. Colton, Barry E. Goldstein, Howard H. Harrison, Jr., Kathleen D. Ireland, Phyllis Williams Kotey, Joel T. Lazarus, Susan Lubitz, James W. Midelis, George A. Shahood, Steven G. Shutter, William R. Slaughter, II, Kenneth D. Stern, and Barry J. Stone.

Lastly, a recipe for banana bread: 

Three or four ripe bananas, smashed; 1/3 cup melted butter; 1 cup sugar; 1 egg, beaten; 1 teaspoon vanilla; 1 teaspoon baking soda; Pinch of salt; 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour.  Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix. Pour mixture into a buttered 4x8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a rack.

SS: DUI guilty verdict challenged by Bogenschutz

Bob Norman drops in on Stu Rosenfeldt

The Captain on some interesting CJ Bills

SUNDAY NOTES

Blacks need apply - there's a deepening diversity crisis in the 17th Circuit judiciary.  With Mary Robinson on extended medical leave, and Ian Richards under attack at the polls, Broward is in grave danger of losing badly needed Black representation on the bench.  There are currently six judges that fit the description (out of 90), only three more than when we first wrote about the issue back in 2008.  It's a disgrace, and current governor Rick Scott has yet to appoint a Black 17th judge, while making at least four blatantly political local appointments thus far.

Still, it's hard to pin it on the JNC and Scott if qualified minority applicants don't apply.  Sure, the "why bother, it's all fixed" argument is understandable, as is the fact talented Black private sector lawyers typically top a judicial salary within a year or two of finishing law school.  But it's not called public service for nothing, and the community's need for Black judges couldn't be more glaring.  The point is qualified minority lawyers need to put in for Ed Merrigan's county seat, if only to see what kind of claptrap the JNC or Scott come up with to deny the community comes second when it comes to picking judges.  Exposure is a powerful tool, and it may fix the problem going forward, at least to a degree.  And who knows, they may surprise everyone and do the right thing, even if the applicant isn't married or otherwise related to a judge or political boss.  So spread the word, as this one may be attainable for all the right reasons, for a change ...

Relapse is part of Rehab ... and everyone knows it, except perhaps Peter Weinstein.  His decision to leave a vulnerable and suffering Gisele Pollack on the criminal bench has backfired big time, following last week's much talked about second public benching of Broward's misdemeanor drug court judge.  The details will be emerging shortly, suffice it to say Weinstein's leadership is once again being called into question. As we told Bob Norman a few months back, allowing Gisele to pass judgment on drug users while battling her own demons is a real credibility buster, and now, unfortunately, if reports of wildly erratic behavior are true, seemingly a recovery killer too. 

Let's face it.  Weinstein isn't the first chief judge to cater to the whims of his voting subjects.  He also isn't the first to promote an image of a strong judiciary at all costs, even if the tactic has proven to almost always make things worse in the end.  But this one seemed like an easy call to make, and a lot of people aren't happy about the way the whole thing was handled.

But hey, we're here to help.  A bunch of calls were placed on Friday to the Florida Bar, since substance abuse issues in the workplace are nothing new to a body governing nearly 100,000 stressed out souls.  It turns out there's an agency called Florida Lawyers Assistance, based right here in Pompano, which was created in response to a Florida Supreme Court mandate to help lawyers and salvage legal careers.  Bar reps put us in touch with Michael Cohen, the Executive Director, who gave us the rundown of options for balancing rehabilitation with protecting the public, such as behavior contracts, random testing, monitoring, and meetings, with the threat of discipline for those that don't take things seriously.  Interestingly, Cohen also stated the JQC has been in contact in recent months, although he has no insight into what the secretive judge protectors are thinking about.

So stay tuned.  There's light at the end of the tunnel, as soon as Weinstein and the JQC start treating judges just like everybody else ...

JAABLOG Movement - Sandy Perlman to vacated civil O'Connor, Cindy Imperato to vacated foreclosure Perlman, Barry Stone to vacated foreclosure Imperato, and either Liz Scherer or Ed Merrigan to vacated criminal Stone.  If Scherer gets Imperato's old criminal division (FJ), then Merrigan would go to vacated Scherer dependency.  None of this is anywhere near official of course, but we're told Imperato is moving her office from the North Wing to the old courthouse in May, meaning her desired return to criminal may not be so imminent.  Additionally, there are whispers that some veterans want out of criminal, so there may be more openings soon.  In any event, as of Friday there was still some confusion as to who is getting stuck in dependency.  Since Stacy Ross seemed to get seniority credit for being a county judge, some are wondering if Merrigan will also get special consideration, in addition to his already helming Veteran's Court, which deals with circuit felony issues.  In the old days Scherer would have had her choice of assignment, particularly after dedicated and lengthy service in the grueling dependency court.  But since politics play a very important role in this judicial administration, we're told it's still a wait and see ...

Additional FDMC confirmations - John Howes, who didn't return a call before deadline, is a member of the First Degree Murder Club, as is judicial candidate Dennis BaileyWe're still looking for a working phone number for Tom Gallagher, so in the meantime drop a comment concerning anyone else you think we need to contact ...

Meet Melissa Donoho

SS: Merrigan appointed to circuit judgeship

Bob Norman: Streitfeld/Trump coziness could lead to new trial

How terribly strange to be 70 ...



Coming Soon - Hangin' around with Bobby Diaz

    
Bob Norman on Gisele Pollack



Fred Berman takes over Robinson.
John Fry
back to North, for now ...

MERRIGAN TO CIRCUIT

All indications point to Ed Merrigan being appointed to circuit court this morning, although this is still not confirmed.

Merrigan's victory was predicted, and now conventional wisdom has Dan Kanner taking over Merrigan's county spot.  Wait and see ...

CONGRATS!

THE FDMC

 Sorry, merit based entry only (for a change) ...

There's an exclusive club in Broward County, and probably in your town too.  The First Degree Murder Club, or FDMC for short.  Lawyers with two or more not guilty verdicts in First Degree Murder cases.  Lessers or compromise verdicts don't count.  It's got to be a flat out not guilty or JOA to qualify, and you have to do it twice to show the first time wasn't a fluke.

These cases are the ones police and the SAO thoroughly investigate, and they're handled by the most talented and experienced prosecutors.  No mismatches here.  Adding to the stress is the media scrutiny these trials often attract, not to mention how some of them test stamina by dragging on and on and on.  Attorneys who overcome the incredible odds and pressure even once in a career are masters of their craft, but to do it multiple times puts them in a league of their own.

And without further ado, here are the known members of Broward's FDMC:

Dennis Bailey, John Cotrone, Michael Entin, John George, Jeff Harris, Barbara Heyer, John Howes, Pete Laporte, Jim Lewis, Hilly Moldof, Mitch Polay, Chris Pole, Pat Rastatter, Keith Seltzer, Raag Singhal, Don Tenbrook, Mike Tenzer, and Dohn Williams.

Well done!

(Post a comment if you know of others, and we'll follow-up.  Most homicide lawyers were contacted, but it's a certainty there's more.  Interestingly, the majority of those named above have three or more NG's, with one attorney boasting SEVEN)

Coming Soon - Your new circuit court judge is ... ; Eugene Pettis follows through; How come no one wants to calculate time served?

WEDNESDAY NOTES

 Guest columnist Charlie Gasko writes:

The RRA meltdown is close to resolving.  As reported in the local newspaper, plenty more legal types will be facing charges.  I'm thinking maybe around twenty.  Deals are being made behind the scenes, since the statute of limitations is about to run.  If these folks don't flip and cop out to lessers, they'll be tied up with RICO charges that'll make their heads spin.  Some of the names may surprise you.  After that, the Bar goes into action.  Buckle up for a bumpy ride.

(Mr. Gasko currently resides in the Tucson, Arizona area.  His views are purely conjecture, however he has been known to have extremely accurate insights into the inner workings of federal agencies in the past.  Again, none of the above has been confirmed, but is in line with many of the rumors we've been hearing around the courthouse)

Senior Judge Army - add retired 4th DCA judge Mark Polen to the growing ranks of Peter Weinstein's senior judge army.  From what we're being told, Polen is supposedly coming to Foreclosures in the next few weeks, while Joel Lazarus is now the permanent Sunday First Appearances judge "for the sake of consistency".  Frankly, none of Weinstein's hardcore addiction to senior judges makes any sense to us, given the soft schedules of so many public servants currently taking home full time pay and pension benefits.  Whatever the case may be, count on seeing lots more of Peggy Gehl, Kathy Ireland, Barry Stone, Steve Shutter, John Frusciante, Lazarus and Polen, and a lot less of the people you actually voted for ...

SS Editorial: Hollywood police deserve better union leader than Marano

Bob Norman: Trump verdict, Streitfeld video

BrowardBeat: Florida Bar joins the fight

Affidavits filed in JQC v. Decker

TUESDAY NOTES



           
LEADERSHIP

Off and running
- Gene Pettis and Howard Finkelstein are pulling together as a team.  As previously reported, the President of the Florida Bar requested something in writing from Broward's Public Defender concerning the wildly disproportionate rates of minority occupancy in the State's jails and prisons due to non-violent crimes, and boy did he get it.  Finkelstein's letter, found here,** went out on March 4th, as first reported by Buddy Nevins

Pettis, who was traveling last week, caught up with us today.  He's already spoken to Miami's David Rothman, Chair-elect of the Bar's Criminal Law Section, who Gene says immediately agreed "there's a problem".  Finkelstein's letter will shortly be in all the Section members' hands, with the goal of raising the issues together with informed suggestions to the Board of Governors.

Here's what else Gene had to say:

We're looking for a solution, or at a minimum, improvement in the system.  It's obviously an issue, there's no question, not a lot of debate.  Look at the demographics, the types of infractions getting people into jail.  Attorney General Holder's position is enlightening, and I am looking forward to those that are experts in that arena to give us some guidance on the problems at hand.  This is what needs to be done.

So there you have it.  As Gene says, this isn't rocket science.  The Drug War is a dismal failure even to casual observers, while a tremendous human price is still being exacted on a daily basis in our most vulnerable communities.  Certainly most prosecutors and judges are sick of it too, but until an official body like the legislature or the Bar supports them, they will unfortunately almost always enforce the status quo.  And that's why this is such a big deal.  A blue ribbon panel of prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges making up the Bar's Criminal Law Section is being asked by their president to take notice of the sick elephant in the room, with the chance to make a real difference on a statewide basis, and perhaps nationally as well.  Quite simply, it's unprecedented, and with Republicans finally joining the call for reform, the future is brighter than it's ever been. 

Definitely a wait, see, and pray the mainstream media takes notice ...

** The Public Defender also sent Chief Frank Adderley this letter  back in February, regarding the legal harassment of Fort Lauderdale's African-American citizenry.

E-Filing fun - E-Filing could be a real boon to defense attorneys, considering police reports should be available online all over the State shortly.  Essentially, if Public Defenders or FACDL can maintain public databases of PC Affidavits, A-Forms, or whatever you want to call them sorted by author and crime, testilying could be seriously curtailed at nearly every stage of the proceedings.  Most lawyers can tell you stories about how they wished they had a stack of a particular cop's police reports to impeach with, and now that the State is scanning them all in, it may be possible.  In the future you may be able to diffuse charges by detecting disturbing patterns, or by roughing up stubborn subjects by confronting them with piles of their own work, and saying things like this:

I just handed you your last fifty DUI arrest reports, and on every one of them, you wrote "watery, bloodshot eyes, and an odor of an alcoholic beverage", isn't that correct?

or

I just handed you your last fifty BatLeo arrest reports where the Defendant was injured, and on every one of them, you wrote "the Defendant fell and sustained his injuries while being taken into custody", isn't that correct?

You get the point.  They may be able to keep cameras out of police cars, but they can't keep the reports offline.  So let's get busy ...

Reset! - Cindy Imperato's DUI up in Palm Beach has been continued to April 14th for case disposition before Mark Eissey.  In the meantime, her son's DUI arrest is still showing "Unfiled" on the Broward Clerk's website, nearly two months later ...

Whose job is it anyway? - calculating time served has traditionally been the Clerk's job.  They are the keepers of the record, after all, and have been doing a great job of it for as long as anyone can remember.  Still, in David Haimes' division, it's up to the lawyers to figure out.  Accordingly, after a recent trip to 7900, we naturally got to wondering, just whose job is it anyway?  Howard Forman promised yesterday to give us an answer soon, so stay tuned ...

Breaking Big - click here for Slate's interview with Pittsburgh attorney Daniel Muessig, the man behind the Thanks Dan! videoDid I mention I'm Jewish?

Coming Soon - Joel Lazarus to weekend First Appearances?; More RRA attorneys going down, and soon?

SS: Russell Williams hands Lynn Rosenthal an election year hot potato

Bob Norman: update on "Perry's Law"

Bob Norman: Surprise, Trump gets special treatment at Broward Courthouse

SS: Streitfeld channels Larry Seidlin

SS: BSO Crime Lab Scandal

SS: Man pleads guilty to Satz threat on JAABLOG

"Rant-sites", JAABLOG, and you ...

Gainesville Sun: Man urinated on strangers near UF campus

Tampa Tribune: Something Happened To Me Yesterday ...

Law 360: Courts Wade Through Murky World Of Online Defamation

USA Today: $3.5 million in Colorado pot revenue for January

Herald: Despite false trial testimony, judge upholds 24-year sentence

SS: Broward Drug Court Judge Towbin-Singer honors highway hero

GETTING FUNCKY

 Oh Mike, not again ...

The BSO Crime lab scandal is growing.  Lawyers are reminded not to plea any cases involving drugs tested by Kelli McDonald until further notice.  Close to 6000 cases could be called into question, so make sure to carefully peruse those lab reports before jumping on any sweet offers.  Brady Notices have gone out from the SAO, together with this twenty-four page report.

This is another major expose courtesy of the Public Defender's Office.  We published Howard Finkelstein's first letter to Satz regarding crime lab issues back in May of 2013, and referenced it again in June , before Channel 6's Ari Odzer made the story mainstream.  Finkelstein's more specific June 13 letter, and a link to Ari's story, are found here.

Expect more mainstream news coverage soon.  We're told McDonald may have retained counsel, and is set to be deposed in Public Defender cases.  Barry Funck, a nationally recognized forensic crime lab expert, is rumored to be in talks with the powers that be to conduct an audit of McDonald's work.  An internal audit by BSO Crime Lab personnel has turned up additional discrepancies in a small sampling of her cases, pointing to a much larger potential problem.

Developing ...

NYT: Holder and Republicans Unite to Soften Sentencing Laws

JAABCAM




1.) GOLD WATCH TIME - make sure to drop by the North Wing 7th Floor conference room FRIDAY, February 28th, from 2:00 to 4:00 PM, to say bon voyage to Denise Goodsmith.  After more than eleven years working with Andy Siegel, and a couple more decades JA'ing before that, Denise is calling it quits.  A hearty well done, but not without a bit of sadness.  As any lawyer or staffer will tell you, it was always a pleasure dealing with a team player like Denise.  Congrats!; 2.) Coming Soon - senior judge Fred Berman?; 3.) Who knew?  A young Buddy Nevins with a circa 1966 Keith Richards.  Before BrowardBeat.com, and before the Sun Sentinel, there was Teen Life Magazine, and a largely unseen stash of photos of Buddy with leaders of the 1960's cultural renaissance; 4.) Mitch Polay and accused Dunkin' Donuts killer James Herard.  This was shortly after Kevin Kulik pulled rank.  Herard is pushing Polay to continue voir dire with a new penalty phase lawyer, while Mitch knows better ...

Coming Soon - Randy Tundidor v. Imperato update; Dear Mr. Pettis & Chief Adderley; Lowly judges not invited to Topping Ceremony ...

SS: Tonya Alanez goes to Pakistan

Herald: Tampa lawmaker tackles issue of DL Drug suspensions

PB Post - Marni Bryson's tough talk

SS: 4th DCA in the house

Gainesville Sun - JQC opens up on Andy Decker

JQC Decker documents

Bob Norman video starring Norm Kent

Bob Norman video starring Eric Rudenberg & Mike Glasser

Grimm - Broward PDO v. DJJ



Building the perfect beast ...

ROADSHOW!

The Fourth DCA is in the house TODAY, February 27th, starting at 1:30 PM in Room 416.  The schedule is here

Come root for the home team, and don't forget to bring a copy of your favorite opinion for autographing afterwards.

WELCOME BACK, FRY

Mary Robinson is doing great, but due to the normal rehab schedule, John Fry will be taking over her division.  Steven Shutter will be handling Fry's duties up at the north satellite.  The switch may be happening as early as this week, much to the relief of the county judges who have been taking turns covering Robinson's docket.  Today relief duty judge Olga Levine handled the chore, while Bobby Diaz didn't appear to have any court at all.

In other Fry news, all the candidates vying for O'Connor's circuit spot were final interviewed yesterday in Tampa.  Expect news of the appointment soon ...

WHERE'S KEVIN?

Kevin Kulik and Mitch Polay spent the last five days trying to pick a jury in the death penalty trial of accused Dunkin' Donuts killer  James Herard, only to be stymied by the Florida Supreme Court.  It's not often one death penalty proceeding interrupts another, but that's exactly what happened today, after the Supremes issued this Order  this morning in the Robert Henry matter

Henry's execution was set for March 20th  on Valentine's Day, prompting his attorney Kulik to reprioritize his to do list.  Paul Backman was forced to send the Herard jurors packing, but only after a lengthy discussion about whether or not Herard's wishes to sub his prior attorney John Cotrone as his penalty phase lawyer for Kulik would be allowed.  In the end everyone but Herard agreed that was a bad idea indeed, so the whole thing will start over with a fresh juror panel after Henry's death warrant expires at the end of March.  Herard, possibly sensing a strong appellate issue in a case fraught with problems for the defense, was visibly angry, stripping his tie off and throwing it down as soon as Backman's ruling was final.

And now all thoughts to Kevin, who has the weight of the world in his hands ...

Coming Soon - Reversible error?: Uncertified interpreters, the 17th Circuit, and you ...

MONDAY NOTES

Good from Bad - maybe the Florida Bar isn't so bad after all.  Today Bar President Eugene Pettis hosted a meeting concerning selective enforcement of the drug laws over at his place, with Howard Finkelstein appearing by phone. 

It came about after a chance encounter at the West Palm Beach courthouse a few weeks back.  Pettis good naturedly took our ribbing over not returning calls  during Bar v. Blog concerning the failed Drug War, and then quickly agreed to set today's meeting.  It wasn't stated, but considering the persecution was over, and the incredible importance of the subject matter, saying yes must have been easy.  A quick call to the Public Defender confirmed his participation, and it was off to the races.

The meeting was premised on trying to find a role for the Bar, whose logo proudly boasts "Protecting Rights, Pursuing Justice ... ", in equaling the lop-sided scales of criminal justice.  Drug use and sales are as prevalent in affluent America as in low-income America, but minorities are wildly over-represented in courthouses, jails and prisons everywhere.  It's a national and statewide problem, and as Finkelstein pointed out, even the Feds are doing something about it.  Why, we asked, can't the Bar?

The answer was a qualified we can.  Pettis patiently explained that because the Florida Bar is a unified bar with compulsory membership and dues, neither the president nor anyone else can push the organization anywhere near the line which might cross into ideological territory.  Everything must fall under "the Keller umbrella".  Employing an example Pettis definitely didn't use, a bunch of us may hate what's going on in the criminal courts, while others like things just the way they are.  And if that's the case, the Bar can't be directed to get involved.  Got that?

But there is a middle ground.  Pettis is eager to "initiate and raise the dialogue" by asking the Bar's Criminal Law Section  ("CJ Section") to discuss the elephant in the room.  He's asked for a request in writing from Finkelstein, who has agreed to provide the data he's assembled concerning Walking While Black, Biking While Black, and of course Driving While Black.  The CJ Section can then be queried whether Florida is answering Attorney General Eric Holder's call  to address important issues of fairness in the state's criminal courts, and to do all that is possible within the rules and guidelines of the Bar to suggest improvements. 

"I was present in San Francisco last August when Attorney General Holder rolled out his guidelines," Pettis said.

"We all move around as if these and other problems don't exist, like graduation rates.  We go about our lives as if everything is well.  But I would like to pull together a dialogue on a community and statewide basis to collectively do a better job." 

So there you have it.  A great start, considering this is possibly the first time a state Bar president has agreed to get involved with such hot button issues.  Expect things to move quickly, since everyone is aware Pettis' term ends in June.  And in the meantime, we'll be sure to follow-up with Greg Coleman, the president-elect.  This is one ball that definitely needs to keep rolling ...

 Not a law firm ...

Gold, Spechler & Sweetapple - everyone is talking about Friday's Sun Sentinel article detailing the battle for the beach, pitting the Ticket Clinic's Mark Gold, former judge Jay Spechler, and Laura Watson's other go-to-guy Robert Sweetapple against the city of Deerfield Beach. 

Apparently it all started many years ago, but the trio isn't letting city hall get them down.  They're hosting private parties and generally making the most of their unique situation, while city officials are not so quietly trying to figure out what to do.

"It's nice to be able to fight for your rights and have fun at the same time," Spechler says, although it was hard to hear exactly what he was saying, given the whooping and hollering in the background, and what sounded like the thwak of a beach ball being launched into orbit.  Unfortunately, signal was lost before we could get confirmation regarding the Beach Boys being booked for July 4th festivities, so stay tuned for all further developments ...

a teenage symphony to God ...



        2014 Gulkin Award Winner Hilly Moldof 
     with daughters/presenters Kelsey and Meeghan

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19th @ 5:30 PM
BROWARD CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS

BACDL Feb Newsletter - Moldof Interview

WEDNESDAY NOTES

Thanks, Buddy - it seems everyone around the courthouse really enjoyed BrowardBeat's take on Cohen v. Blog, at least from the feedback we got.  And while critics are correct that the high road wasn't taken by either party before things spun out of control, absolutely everyone is wondering what could have prompted the other guy to cross into the creep zone.  That being said, we're satisfied this is over,* even if some of you still persist in spreading wholesale lies regarding a certain somebody being called "a derogatory name for a gay that starts with an F".  It never happened, of course, and while Mr.Cohen's distant relationship with the truth in this area may be infuriating, it goes with the territory of being a self-appointed cyber finger-pointer.  Besides, it hasn't been of any concern to friends, while others we've never met need only look back over the years of blogging to see that JAABLOG's core message of equality and justice for all has never wavered.  And so, without further ado, on with the show! ...

* Although JAABLOG's polygraph challenge  to Cohen remains open ad infinitum.

Gardiner Reply Brief - here is the Amended Answer Brief of Respondent, filed by Dave Bogenschutz on January 23rd.  It's a 52 page unmitigated Mitigation-Fest, with plenty of cites to the trial transcript.  In other words, it's a complete bore, since so many of Gardiner's celebrity witnesses were left unmolested by Bar prosecutors.  Whatever.  Hopefully the Supreme Court rules soon, considering everything is filed.  Check out the docket here, and read all the documents filed in SC11-2311 here.

DBR: Judge Watson's Attorney Warns JQC That It's Reminiscent Of KGB