WEDNESDAY NOTES

Switcheroo! – the rumors regarding Andrea Gundersen being pushed out of Family are true, and for all those fretting about her coming to Criminal, rest easy. She’s going to Dennis Bailey’s current Foreclosure Division #11, and Bailey is taking Gundersen’s Family Division #41. As far as Raag Singhal’s coveted former Civil Division #21, it’s being babysat by Mark Speiser until the JNC fills the vacancy created by Singhal’s call-up to The Show, with Raag’s replacement now likely coming to Criminal to take over for whomever wins the behind the scenes wrestling match to win admission to 21 Club. Today’s AO is found here with the three changes …

Save the date!Gina Hawkins JQC trial is coming up, set for February 13th in the central courthouse. There’s been lots of back and forth on the docketing of this case, with former ASA Greg Lauer now a listed witness in support of what he categorizes as his former trial partner’s “playful actions.” All docs are found here

Busted! – Clerk’s employee Sheena White got indicted by the Feds, suspended without pay since January 3rd of this year. The Indictment is found here. It’s unknown at this time if the allegations have any type of connection to White’s employment responsibilities.

Jason Maraj, one of Brenda’s higher-ups at the Clerk’s Office, recently beat a felony gun rap, ably repp’d by courthouse go-to-guy Jeremy Kroll. The PC Affidavit is here, No Info’d by the SAO’s Alex Urruela back on December 13th. Kroll also represents former ASA Alim Babayev on pending DUI allegations before Bobby Diaz, with Zeb Goldstein defending Babayev against a civil auto negligence complaint stemming from the same alleged DUI incident …

BOG Platform Statements – there are three races for BOG this year, and the platform statements are found here. Interestingly, Michael Shelley, running in the 11th Circuit, shares similar concerns with “(t)ransparency and consistency in discipline cases,” writing “the Bar seems to be focused on constitutionally protected free speech rather than actual misconduct that harms the client and the public at large.” Check out all the statements, including Jay Kim’s, and be sure to read this Q&A with TFB president-elect hopeful Michael Tanner, regarding legal challenges to mandatory bar associations, as previously highlighted via WSJ link on JAABLOG here

Served!JAABLOG is ensnared in Bryson v. Scherer, due to this post from May of last year. Marni’s attorneys are looking to invade the journalist’s privilege, but not if Pro Bono Warrior John Howes has anything to say about it. Check out this objection John filed back in December, and we’ll be sure to update after this Friday’s scheduled depo …

Whose mother do I have to hire around here to get a nolle prosse? – that’s the bad joke going around the courthouse these days, after the SAO dropped some serious 1st degree felonies, and then refiled them. The cases had been in ASA Jeff Chukwuma’s name, while the defense attorney was his mom, Laura Chukwuma. Needless to say, Jeff wasn’t the ASA that dropped the cases, but the incidents have been the talk of the SAO, where morale is even lower than the usually normal all-time-low, due to the perceived closeness of Laura to Mike Satz.

We saw Jeff Marcus and Satz last week and asked if they knew anything about the matter, since it was our understanding that police officers involved in some of the cases may have been the first to make the stink that led to the refiles. Marcus and Satz were predictably uncommunicative, so we went to the SAO’s PIO later that day, who replied last Friday:

Here is the Broward State Attorney’s Office response to your questions:

As you know, cases are automatically assigned by the degree of felony and the seniority level of the prosecutors in each courtroom/division.

Assistant State Attorney Jeffrey Chukwuma was removing himself from cases where his mother was the attorney of record, as required. We recently discovered that while he was removing himself from those cases and giving them to other prosecutors to handle, his name was remaining on the case as the assigned prosecutor.

This was corrected after it was discovered and Mr. Chukwuma was counseled to officially have the cases reassigned to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

Among those cases were one case involving two co-defendants and a separate case involving one defendant. Those cases were randomly assigned to Judge Siegel’s division, where the defense attorney’s son is the lead prosecutor.

Because of the conflict of interest, another lead prosecutor from a different courtroom/division was asked to handle the above cases. That prosecutor was absent from court because of a missed flight and yet another prosecutor was asked to step in (at short notice) and handle the court hearings.

After speaking briefly with the defense attorney, the prosecutor was under the impression that charges were to be dismissed against all three defendants and that one of the three defendants had agreed to plead to one charge in exchange for time served.

Upon review, supervising prosecutors disagreed with the dropping (or nolle pros) of the charges against the three defendants and those charges were re-filed. Supervisors also disagreed with the disposition of the charge that had been pleaded out but it was not possible to re-file that charge.

Our prosecutors are continuing to review the matter.

The cases involved were:

17-8678CF10A and 19-2084CF10A Wiky Jean

18-13535CF10A Berlin Millicent

19-2138CF10A Tiffany French

All but 17-8678CF10A have been re-filed.

We’ll be sure to update after the SAO finishes its review …

BOWIE/BELEW MUSIKLADEN 1978

GELIN v. KIM

Happy New Year to all.

During the break, The Florida Bar News announced only three contested Board of Governors (BOG) races statewide this year, to be held in March.  One is in Miami, and two are in Broward. 

In the 17th, Christina McKinnon is taking on Hilary Creary, and I am up against Jay Kim, of Kim Vaughan Lerner LLP.  Click the link above for specifics on election procedures.

Candidate platform statements were due yesterday, for publication later in the month online and in print.  My statement is below.  

Additionally, I have challenged Jay to a debate concerning qualifications and the critical issues facing The Florida Bar (TFB) today, and personally assured him of equal time for anything professionally written he may wish to post here on JAABLOG.  However, as noted in the platform statement, Jay doesn’t return my emails.  I had also emailed his partner, Robert Vaughn, in his capacity as incoming president of the Broward County Bar Association (BCBA), to see if he could help arrange a debate in the event Jay rises to the challenge.  Robert promptly replied that he would forward my request to his colleagues on the BCBA Executive Committee for consideration and discussion, so let’s hope Jay doesn’t run from this important dialogue.

In the meantime, please take the time to read my statement, and do contact me with any questions, concerns, or insights to help me win.  I know there are an awful lot of people out there who also feel TFB needs a change of course, and together we can make a difference.

Bill Gelin

RESTRICTED WORD COUNT PLATFORM STATEMENT:

My name is Bill Gelin, and I am running against Jay Kim for BOG in Broward. I graduated UC Berkeley, and Stanford Law School.

I am known as an aggressive criminal defense attorney after daily courtroom appearances over eighteen-plus years, and for my role as principal author of the courthouse blog, JAABLOG.

My work on “the blog” has led to a large body of local, national, and international news stories over fourteen years, and helped to root-out corruption. However, I am most proud of starting the public dialogue in Broward for criminal justice reform and diversity on the bench more than a decade before they became fashionable topics. For my service, I was named Broward-Palm Beach “Best Lawyer” and “Best Gadfly,” and JAABLOG “Best Blog” by local media. Despite helping to usher in needed reforms, TFB has never been a fan, and has pursued numerous unfounded, anti-free speech/reform-chilling complaints, for which probable cause has never been found.

Why run?

Because I believe in offering and working towards solutions, instead of simply pointing out flaws.

This is a critical time for TFB. Former president Michelle Suskauer is under investigation for serious ethics allegations discovered by a federal judge, and a Miami judge recently wrote a report that reads like an indictment of TFB’s disciplinary arm. Taken together with ongoing repressive Bar actions against critical free speech, I believe an independent audit of Bar practices is necessary to ensure the public is properly protected and reassured.

Enhancement of a disciplinary process viewed as inefficient, anti-due process, and sometimes politically manipulated both offensively and defensively, is not the only area of concern. Professionalism and civility must be addressed, namely combatting institutional racism via TFB’s educational and legislative advocacy functions. There is nothing more unprofessional and uncivilized than disparate systemic impacts upon minorities, and TFB should be exercising more leadership. If elected, lip service to ideals of behavior will not be espoused, but rather inconvenient truths stated and countered.

Why run against Jay Kim?

I don’t think he’s accomplished much on the BOG, and besides not adequately addressing the issues above, he voted to terminate a judicial professionalism feedback program, instead of working to fix it.

I also disagree with his mentoring position, stating for YLD consumption “your client is generally not worth a bad personal relationship with your opposing counsel.” The public distrusts the legal profession because it’s perceived as self-serving; I will work to educate everyone that clients are always paramount.

Lastly, I emailed Jay before and after announcing, with no response. Professionalism requires more, and I will faithfully communicate with all.

As a busy sole practitioner, I am sensitive to the needs of running a business. I will be there for lawyers interested in solving personal issues, as well as addressing “macro” problems. Transparency is key, and in the changing technological legal landscape of which we all are part, I will seek your input to help shape the future practice of law to both benefit hard-working attorneys and protect the public.

(Disclaimer/Unsolicited Mass Communications – anyone subscribed to JAABLOG not wishing to receive blogs regarding Bill Gelin’s candidacy for BOG Seat 17/1 of the Florida Bar should immediately UNSUBSCRIBE to JAABLOG)

BACKGROUND:

Bill Gelin for BOG! (August ’19)

An Introduction (April ’19)

DEBATE VIDEOS

The debate video is now available, courtesy of RedBroward.com’s Tom Lauder.

The SAO video is here.  The questions start at 10:40, following the opening statements.

The more informal PDO debate video is here. The questions start at 4:20, following opening statements.

Thanks to David Ovalle from the Miami Herald, Rafael Olmeda from the Sun Sentinel, Erin Daniels from the African-American Library, Jennifer Spillane and Monica Elliott from the League of Women Voters, Antony Page from FIU College of Law, Tom Lauder from RedBroward, Chad Shuck from Total Rental Solutions for the solid on the audio presentation, and all the candidates for their participation.

THANKS FOR PLAYING!

DEBATE QUESTIONS

The SAO/PDO Debates were held last night at the African-American Library.  When the video becomes available, we will post.  In the meantime, here are the questions that were posed to all announced candidates except Gordon Weekes, who previously cancelled his appearance, and David Cannady, who had to go to hospital with his wife, who is expecting …

SAO QUESTIONS (read in different order)

1.) Minorities have long been over-represented in the criminal justice system, and there is a documented disparity in sentencing of minorities. This is evident not only in scholarship and statistics nationwide, but also on display on any given day in any felony courtroom in Broward County. Have you studied this phenomenon, how do you explain it, and how will you address it as State Attorney?

2.) The Broward County State Attorney’s Office recently created a Conviction Review Unit to ensure the integrity of its convictions. As a recent Sun Sentinel editorial noted, “In Florida, Broward holds the dubious record for convicting people later found innocent.” While the review unit is a constructive first step, other media coverage has noted that the unit looks to the past but not the future, failing to prioritize the goal of avoiding wrongful convictions in the first place.  What will you do as State Attorney to make sure the unit has integrity looking both backwards and forwards, and if elected, will you issue the first formal public apology on behalf of the State Attorney’s Office to all of the known wrongfully convicted individuals and their families, demonstrating this unit is more than just public relations?

3.) The State Attorney’s Office has been under the same leadership for 44 years. This brings about a remarkable level of consistency and stability. But it also embeds a culture in which things are done a certain way, decisions are made by a certain process, and the people in positions of relative authority have made a career-long practice of adhering to that process. If, as State Attorney, you intend to implement criminal justice reforms in any significant way, can you do that while leaving the same people in charge of the same duties, particularly in the senior leadership roles? How will you lead the process of changing an office that has not seen this kind of overhaul since the final days of the Ford Administration?

4.) Retention is a significant issue for attorneys in the public sector, both for prosecutors and in the public defender’s office. Leaving aside the issue of salary, which we will address in a separate question, what will you do to persuade talented lawyers to not only join your office, but to remain there long past the time they are trained and highly effective prosecutors?  How will you address morale concerns, and ensure there are significant advancement opportunities throughout your tenure, particularly if you stay in office for numerous terms?

5.) There is a perception that Broward’s current diversion programs are too restrictive, with too many impediments to entry, including an onerous written application process for felony. For example, unlike our neighboring jurisdictions to the north and south, we require defendants to sign a statement of guilt. There also is a lack of consistency between the misdemeanor and felony programs in Broward.  As State Attorney, will you address these issues, and will you implement the first ever 1st time DUI Diversion program similar to the programs long in place in Palm Beach, Miami, and in many other Florida jurisdictions?

6.) In Miami-Dade, police shootings are reviewed by a committee of senior prosecutors and a detailed memo is authored explaining rationale for or against criminal charges. In Broward, the SAO takes the cases to the grand jury, which are, of course, secret hearings. How, if at all, would you change the mechanism on how the SAO office decides on criminal charges in police shootings or use of force cases?

7.) When the State Attorney in Orlando announced unilaterally that she would no longer seek the death penalty in her jurisdiction, her office lost funding and she lost jurisdiction over homicide cases. We are in a jurisdiction where the death penalty is less popular than elsewhere in the state. What are your thoughts on how The Orlando State Attorney handled that policy decision, and as State Attorney, what factors will you take into consideration to ensure the death penalty is applied fairly and evenly?

8.) Broward tries fewer felony cases than Orlando and Miami-Dade but has a lower conviction rate; in fact, ours is the lowest conviction rate after trial in the state of Florida, according to the most recent statistics from the Office of the State Courts Administrator. There is a perception that we aggressively overcharge crimes and fail to independently investigate any but the most serious charges before filing a case. Are we giving our prosecutors the tools to assess when they have a winning case and the discretion to resolve less serious cases so they can focus their attention on the most serious offenders? Do you believe case filing is in need of reform, and how would you do so? Will you require police officer witnesses to be personally interviewed before a case is filed?

9.) We asked earlier about changing the office’s culture after decades under the same leadership. A significant factor moving forward would be reorganization, which opens the opportunity to evaluate the salaries of prosecutors. The State Attorney’s Office already attempted to deal with the issue of compression, but how will you continue to make sure veteran lawyers are compensated fairly in comparison to newer attorneys. Can you find the money by reconsidering the amount of support staff you need to run the office, given the technological savvy of the new generation of lawyers. Can you propose any other ways to improve the salaries of staff attorneys?

PDO QUESTIONS (read in different order and not necessarily verbatim)

1.) For a longtime, many assistant public defenders have griped that chiefs assistants don’t carry caseloads. That leaves many of the younger PDs with a crushing caseload, and without an experienced hand to lean on in the courtrooms. If you’re elected, will the PD’s office stay organized as is? If there’s a reorganization, will you move to make sure the assistant chiefs carry a caseload?

2.) Florida raised the starting salary for PDs to $50,000 a year. That’s a great step in the right direction, but unfortunately, that creates so-called compression, where PDs who have been working for many years will be suddenly making less or the same as new hires. The Broward State Attorney’s has already given some raises to existing lawyers. How will you address this issue if elected Public Defender

3.) When Parkland shooting defendant Nikolas Cruz was arrested, the Broward Public Defender’s Office immediately admitted he would plead guilty if the state waived the death penalty. Do you agree with this approach? The office handles numerous cases in which guilt is barely in question, but conceding guilt at the outset has not been a tactic, generally speaking. Can you all-but-concede guilt and still effectively represent someone whose constitutional rights, freedoms and very lives are at stake?

4.) Would you consider securing video link ups to the jail.

5.) There’s a perception that there’s a strained relationship between the Public Defender’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office, the Judiciary and even the Clerks. Is that perception wrong? And how will you go about improving those relationships? How closely should all these agencies be working together, given the built-in adversarial roles?

6.) Whether it was writing forceful letters to the State Attorney or doing media interviews, Howard Finklestein was always a high-profile voice for criminal justice reform and protecting the rights of poor defendants, and defendants of color. Will you continue to be a voice for the downtrodden, and how will you go about doing that, to fill the void that will be left after Finkelstein’s retirement? 

DIAZ STALKING ALLEGATION DISMISSED!

*UPDATE/UPDATE* – Kevin Beach, defendant:

*UPDATE*Robert Gregg was reached at 8:58 AM and asked if the incident was simply a case of a disgruntled or out of touch individual targeting a sitting judge.  Gregg declined comment, citing confidentiality rules …

———————————————————————————

Thanks to Anonymous, November 16 at 11:59 AM, for alerting JAABLOG readers to the recently filed Petition For Injunction For Protection Against Stalking by Petitioner Kevin Tyrell Beach, against Respondent Bobby Diaz.

Barry Stone, senior judge in the 17th Circuit, dismissed the petition for insufficient evidence on November 12th, after a special assignment to preside over  the matter was signed by Jack Tuter.  No circuit-wide recusal was requested.

The whole thing seems strange, which is why we texted Diaz for more information on Saturday, as follows:

” … do you know Kevin Beach?  Did you have any interactions with him in North Lauderdale in late August, as he alleged in his Petition?  Is he lying? … “

There’s been no answer to date.  In the meantime, we’ll follow-up with Diaz’s attorney from the AG’s Office Robert Gregg, and try to speak with Beach to learn what the whole thing was about …