KNOW YOUR CANDIDATES

Courtesy of The Dan Lewis Report, here are the presentations from the Fort Lauderdale Civic Association’s Judicial Forum on August 13th, moderated by Howard Finkelstein, and filmed by political consultant Dan Lewis. Questions follow the speeches.

Click on the link above to see video in the following order:

  1. Introduction/Cawthon v. Demmery v. Greller;
  2. Diaz v. Heise;
  3. Sokoloff v. Davis;
  4. Gilman v. Phillips v. Powell;
  5. Lee v. Lustig;
  6. Kollra v. Schneider;
  7. Padowitz v. Africk-Olefson;
  8. Allen-Rosner v. Moon v. Donoho v. Leali;
  9. Coolidge-Shotwell v. Alspector;
  10. Usan v. Kaplan;
  11. Berger v. Casey;
  12. Miller v. Markhasin-Weekes v. Curry.

SS Editorial: Florida needs to restore public trust in picking judges

Why do Broward judges seem so prone to slip up?

Those in the know say it’s partly a reflection of Broward’s exceptionally raucous politics. The backscratching and favor-trading that are common to politics ought to have no place in the judiciary. But it can happen even among judges who are appointed rather than elected.

A 2014 article on the J.A.A.B. Blog, which focuses on the Broward judiciary, cited a “highly politicized and clannish culture that is known for protecting its own…”

HEISE/DIAZ CONFIRM

Following-up on yesterday’s emailed request for a commitment from the candidates for County Court Judge, Group 10, as to whether or not they will serve a full six-year term if elected:

Mike Heise: “The answer is “absolutely yes”. If elected, I am committing to the voters of Broward County that I will serve the full term for this office.”

As far as Bobby Diaz is concerned, he has not replied as of deadline to the email sent to his personal address, his judicial address, his division address, or his JA’s address.  Furthermore, a text to his personal cell phone at 11:17 A.M. was ignored, after he hung up on a call to the same phone at 11:15 A.M.

Therefore, if Diaz prevails at the polls, it’s definitely a wait and see …

UPDATE: COMMITMENT!

From Diaz’s election Facebook page:

So there you have it.  The You Make The Call! breaking Diaz’s DROP status went up August 10th.  On the evening of August 12th, Diaz posted the above message confirming his intention to serve a full term if elected.  Our emails to Diaz and Heise went out the next day, with absolutely no response from Diaz or his campaign, or direction to the Facebook posting, of which we were unaware.  Oh well, at least it’s a confirmation, and shows somebody over there is reading JAABLOG

DROP TALK

The following question was posed to both Bobby Diaz and Mike Heise earlier today, via email: “as candidates for County Court, Group 10, will you commit to serving a full six-year term if elected, assuming good health?

Deadline is noon tomorrow, August 14th.

Also, Tallahassee calculated the amounts of Diaz’s DROP and pension, for both this month and the DROP completion date of November 30th, 2019.

As follows:

… Diaz will earn $619,717.20 upon completion of 60 months in DROP. As of this month, his DROP payment has accrued to $453,534.49.

At the time his DROP participation is scheduled to end, November 2019, his monthly retirement benefit will be $10,692.34. The monthly benefit currently credited is $10,415.29.

So there you have it. With an investable $620,000 DROP pot and an annual pension of roughly $128,304, it seems to make economic sense for Diaz to retire in 2019, particularly if he wishes to supplement his income with mediations or other legal work. However, if money is a secondary consideration to service, the figures are irrelevant.

We’ll let you know what the parties have to say about doing a full six at deadline …

YOU MAKE THE CALL!

A question was posed in the comments section, and we’ve got the answer, with questions to follow.

Bobby Diaz, currently seeking to retain his county court seat against challenger Michael Heise, is indeed in Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP.

According to the folks up in Tallahassee, Diaz elected to start DROP on December 1, 2014, and will max out his five years of taxpayer-funded contributions on November 30, 2019, or roughly eleven months after beginning a new term, if he beats Heise.

Diaz collects his full judicial salary, currently $151,821.96, while the benefits accrue, and unlike state employees who are not constitutional officers, will not be forced to retire after the DROP pot is full.  Diaz, 65 years old, can finish his term if he chooses, or he can retire anytime after December, 2019, take the DROP money, and collect his pension.  We don’t have the exact figures yet, but it’s believed his DROP cash would be at least in the $600,000 range, and the annual pension north of $100,000.  DROP money does not accrue interest after it reaches the limit and is not withdrawn, which could be another incentive to throw in a robe.

DROP, of course, was designed to entice older, better paid employees to make way for younger, less expensive ones.  The thinking went that Florida would save a ton of money, and get many younger, dedicated individuals to commit their most productive decades to the state by creating room at the top.  Taxpayers do not save a judicial salary when DROP is involved, since all judges are paid the same, but they would arguably get a much younger jurist devoting a new, long career to their respective circuit, which is probably why DROP applies to those on the bench.

There’s nothing in the rules against Diaz and others in his position running after signing on to collect early retirement benefits.  And if Diaz did intend to retire early when he entered DROP, it’s his option to change his mind and go for a new six-year term, which the retirement age rules allow him to complete.  Plenty of judges have done just that, while many others have bailed with time on their terms when the DROP pot got too hot to not handle, effectively turning an elected seat into an appointed one.

And now for the questions.

Should the DROP law be changed to stop it from applying to the judiciary and other fixed salary positions, or to stop elected officials from seeking new terms after they’ve entered DROP?

Should the elected class be treated like all state employees, and be forced to retire when the expensive taxpayer contributions reach the five-year limit?

Should there be a cutoff point for constitutional officers, limiting the ability to seek new terms to those less than half-way through the five-year contribution period at the time of qualifying?

Should post-DROP office seekers be required to disclose their status to the voters?

Or should things stay the same?

YOU MAKE THE CALL!

YOU MAKE THE CALL!

Grand Jury Picnic Fun! – should Homicide ASA’s accept an invitation to a potluck gathering extended by former Grand Jurors who reportedly handled the Cruz case and numerous other murder charges?

The SAO doesn’t see why not.  From an official email received earlier today:

On June 28th, the Broward County Grand Jury, January through June 2018 session, ended their term of service. There was no further business presented to these jurors.

Roughly three weeks later, on July 17th, the grand jury coordinator in our office, received an email from a former grand juror inviting staff members from the State Attorney’s Office, who worked with the grand jury, to a potluck gathering. That email was forwarded to several employees at the State Attorney’s Office.

A few staff members felt it was appropriate to attend the potluck to personally thank the jurors for their months of service. The gathering was this past weekend on July 29th.

Obviously, no state funds were used at this event. After a grand jury has finished their term and they have been discharged from service, there is nothing inappropriate with former grand jurors inviting staff members from our office to a potluck picnic.

The Public Defender’s Office sees things differently.  From Gordon Weekes, Chief Assistant PD:

This calls into question whether those ASA’s engaged in misconduct during Grand Jury presentations that allowed them to get so close and friendly to jurors to cause them to want to hang out and party.  Every single indictment they obtained needs to be reviewed, as these are life and death decisions.

Are do-overs necessary? Has an appearance of impropriety been created?  Or is it just sour grapes over not being invited to a fun gathering?

YOU MAKE THE CALL!

SMOKING GUN?

County Commission security personnel, like the gentleman pictured above, have been seen around the courthouse for some time now.  They handle the issuance of security passes, but they’ve also been seen checking courtrooms on a regular basis, and keeping notes.

We’re told the never-ending financial battle between BSO and the county may be the reason for the rumored new age JAABWALKS, with BSO looking for additional courthouse security funds, and the commission interested in just how busy the courtrooms really are before deciding to dole out more money.

Since judicial downtime and efficiency have always been of interest around here, and given the urgency presented by recent JQC activity, we sent the following public records request to the commission, seeking:

… logs/notations/reports or any other memorialization of data concerning the county’s monitoring of courtroom usage in the Broward County Courthouse since before, and after, the new courthouse structure opened. The information sought specifically should notate the time and dates the courtrooms were checked, the number of the courtroom, and whether they were in use or not. Additionally, the same information is requested regarding judicial chambers, and whether judges were present when and if the chambers are checked …

Our preliminary emails with county personnel prior to the records request indicate the courtrooms are checked to determine if a courtroom is in use, and to make sure they are “properly secured for no re-entry until there is a need for the courtroom to be used“.  In any event, we’ll let you know what we get back, and if there’s anything that could be of interest to people outside of Broward …

COMING SOONGrand Jury Picnic Fun!