Catch-and-Release: Criminal Injustice Under Aronberg

Regular readers of our crime reports have noticed so many cases where serious criminals repeatedly get breaks, leaving the public exposed to their ongoing mayhem.

I should start by noting that many think of me as “soft on crime” because I’m a defense lawyer and because of my opposition to DUI checkpoints and my criticism of DUI enforcement. This is best embodied by my book Fair DUI and the Fair DUI flyer.

That doesn’t make me soft on crime. It means I’m strong on the Constitution.

Since I moved to West Boca eight years ago I have noticed repeatedly the soft treatment criminals get from the system. Where I come from (Albany NY), first-time criminals often get breaks and that’s true in most places. But repeat offenders rarely get significant breaks. I represented a client who was arrested for home burglary and he got 19 1/2 years in state prison there. He was a repeat offender and this was not his first prison sentence. But he had nowhere near the record I see in many cases here where people get out on low bail and then get their cases dropped or get short sentences.

The system seems extremely arbitrary. This post was inspired in large part by a local attorney whose DUI case was dropped by Dave Aronberg’s office. Aronberg is the Palm Beach County prosecutor. We’ve been critical of him in the past for being soft on repeat offenders who drive while suspended. Like most politicians he does not take criticism well.

In this latest incident the attorney’s DUI case was dropped very quickly. I found this in doing my local crime report article and began investigating. I requested public records from the Boca Raton Police Department and from Aronberg’s office. Boca PD responded quickly and provided me with a lot of information including videos, and the memo from Aronberg’s office supposedly explaining why the case was dropped.

Aronberg’s office has still provided nothing.

The memo is below. Hard to read but basically one of Aronberg’s assistants said he dropped the case because the video showed the stop was not going to hold up in court.


That doesn’t fit with what we saw in the video leading up to the stop.

First of all the video only shows 30 seconds before the traffic stop commenced. We, and the prosecutor, do not know what the officer saw in the minute before the video starts. In any event the driver is clearly weaving, hitting the left lane line at the beginning of the video and going well over the right lane line. He hits his brakes for no apparent reason, and hits the right lane line again as he’s going through an intersection. He’s heading for the left lane line again as the officer starts the traffic stop.

What’s particularly odd about this from my perspective as a defense lawyer is that the ASA (assistant state attorney) reviewed the video so early in the case. I discussed this with an experienced and highly regarded local defense lawyer who agreed that prosecutors never look at evidence like this so early on.

Boca PD’s disclosures meanwhile indicate that the attorney’s defense lawyer requested the video the same morning that the prosecutor dropped the case and it was ready for them at 11:30 am. The prosecutor’s memo was written at 1:23 pm.

What prompted the ASA to look at this case so early on? What led him to review the video so quickly and thoroughly? These are questions and we’d like answers. But we’re not getting them from Aronberg.

Mike Edmondson is the media guy for Aronberg and Natalie Cruz is the person designated for public records requests.

I made a public records request to Aronberg’s office two weeks ago after seeing ASA Meshulam’s memo. Cruz responded two days later indicating that the request was received. A few days later I followed up:

Public officials are required to comply with public records requests. Failure to do so is illegal and should subject them to a fine. Wilful failure to do is a misdemeanor and can lead to jail time and removal from the job.

It is now two weeks after my request and there is still no response. How hard can it be to provide a copy of ASA Meshulam’s calendar for a single day?

That day matters because it’s the day he wrote the memo. What are they hiding and why are they hiding it?

We can only conclude that Aronberg’s office is covering up their misconduct in giving a sweetheart deal to a connected local lawyer. This is not surprising from a prosecutor with a history of unethical conduct. We saw this most recently when Aronberg used the Robert Kraft case to get public attention for himself while grossly exaggerating the circumstances. And of course his office botched its handling of the insanity defense in the Jimmy the Greek murder.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg in our county and all of South Florida. We keep seeing cases where people continue to reoffend and are never held fully accountable under Florida law. Just last week we covered a man arrested for driving while suspended for what is at least his sixth offense. He’s never done any meaningful jail time for it.

Back in 2015 we covered the Brett Knowles case, a driver who hit 3 pedestrians on 441 near West Boca Medical Center. Aronberg’s office stalled on prosecuting the case, dropped a subsequent driving while suspended prosecution against Knowles, and this was amidst a history of failing to properly charge this repeat offender with the felony count and putting him in jail. Because Aronberg’s office failed to hold him accountable, Knowles was on the road and sent two of those three kids into surgery.

Political prosecutors like Aronberg use high profile cases, like Robert Kraft or Tiger Woods, to pretend they’re tough on crime. In reality they let a lot of serious criminals off easy or with no consequences at all.

Basically we have a criminal injustice system in South Florida where a few people are treated very harshly in an arbitrary manner, either because of their celebrity or just bad luck. Meanwhile our police officers and deputies do a pretty good job catching criminals only to see them released by incompetent and careless prosecutors.

It’s a catch-and-release system and the end result is more crime in our neighborhoods. More car burglaries, more residential burglaries, more robberies and so on. Not only does this make us less safe, it also drives up our insurance rates.

GL Homes at Boca Muni

We don’t have a name yet but we have a lot more information about the new GL Homes development that will replace the Boca Municipal Golf Course.

GL Homes future development on the Boca Municipal Golf Course is just west of the Turnpike. The last major undeveloped parcels in the area (shaded in purple) are currently farmland but we suspect they’ll be developed sometime in the next 10 years.

The new development, next to the Turnpike and north of Glades Road, will include 564 homes in 5 subdivisions along with a 4-acre clubhouse and recreation area and 11 lakes.

New documents filed earlier this week shed a lot more light on what’s coming. Full details below for paid subscribers.

Continue reading “GL Homes at Boca Muni”

Kraft Getting Shaft

Robert Kraft has been offered a plea deal on charges of soliciting prostitution. There are a lot of angry comments suggesting this is somehow a sweetheart deal for Kraft because he’s rich and famous. Here are two examples:

They’re wrong. Aronberg, a Democrat in a Democratic county, is not doing Republican Trump any favors. And for those who think the Patriots owner is getting a break because of football, this is Dolphins territory.

Kraft is not getting a sweetheart deal. He’s getting screwed because he’s rich and famous. A high-profile arrest of a celebrity is often treated by prosecutors like Dave Aronberg as an opportunity to grandstand. The average Joe often gets off lightly because there’s no publicity value in going after them and if prosecutors were this aggressive on every case it would be too much work and would clog the court system.

I’ll get to the details of Kraft’s case shortly, but the best example I can think of in the past was Giants wide receiver and SuperBowl hero Plaxico Burress. As a Giants fan I have to include this video on the off chance any Patriots fans are reading this.

He accidentally shot himself in NYC and was prosecuted for criminal possession of a handgun.

As a NY defense lawyer I represented many people for criminal possession of a handgun. Not one of them did any jail time. The typical deal was a reduction to a non-criminal violation and a fine. In some cases they’d be able to get the gun back.

Burress was targeted by anti-gun NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and ultimately got a 2-year prison sentence.

Something similar is happening with Kraft, though fortunately Kraft faces nowhere near the same potential penalty.

According to NBC News:

Kraft … would have [the] charges dropped in exchange for … conceding that [he] would have been found guilty, completing 100 hours of community service per charge, taking an education course on prostitution, undergoing a screening for sexually transmitted diseases, and paying $5,000 per charge.

$5000? The maximum fine for the offense is $1000, maybe $2000 since they charged him with two counts. While the offense carries a potential penalty of a year in jail, that never happens on a first offense misdemeanor like this. We rarely see any jail time for repeat offenders on low-level felonies. So why would Kraft have to pay $5000 per charge?

Of course Kraft is a billionaire so paying $5000 or $10,000 is nothing if it makes the case go away.

Just for comparison we looked at some recent cases we have seen in Palm Beach County. First of all it’s rare to see men charged with the first degree misdemeanor as Kraft is here. Usually they are charged with a second degree misdemeanor which has a lower fine.

The first degree offense may fit, but we often see regular people charged at a lower level. It’s common for repeat suspended drivers to keep getting charged at the misdemeanor level even after the third offense which makes it a felony. A few years ago we reported on Aronberg going easy on suspended drivers.

Here’s an example of a deferred prosecution agreement that was reached for one of the Johns arrested in the 2014 prostitution sting we covered.

He faced the same charge Kraft faces. He had a minor criminal history (driving while suspended). He paid $50 cost of prosecution. No fine. No $5000 charge. The charge against him was dropped – “Nolle Prosse”. Notice that the community service box is not checked off. He did have to do the PIPE class – Prostitution Impact Prevention Education – that is mentioned for Kraft. No jail. No probation.

Another man arrested in that 2014 sting had a similar result:

Same charge. Same $50 cost of prosecution. This guy had to also do STD testing and there’s a note about “no new crimes/offenses.” Same nolle prosse. You can see that 10 hours of community service was on the form but crossed out. 10 hours, not 100, and that was dropped. No jail. No probation.

In a more recent case, a defendant we covered was arrested this January for falsely reporting about a crash. He denied being the driver. This is a crime of dishonesty. It can really matter for insurance and for persons who may have been harmed or for property damage. It’s a second degree misdemeanor.

He got pretrial diversion and paid $100 for “cost of prosecution.” That’s it. Another average Joe got off easy.

So for all those who think Kraft is getting a deal, it’s a raw deal.

What I hope happens in this case is Kraft’s attorney resolves it with the judge, who should wisely disregard Aronberg’s nonsense. Kraft could plead “No Contest”, get a “withhold adjudication” (so it’s not officially a conviction) and pay a fine of perhaps $500 or $1000 plus some costs.

On the lighter side of this story, the arrest reports indicate that Kraft was charged for two incidents one day and then the next. On day one he showed up at the massage parlor driving a “2014 White Bentley.” The next day he showed up in a “2015 blue Bentley.”

So he has two Bentleys, or more than two, in Florida. A Bentley typically costs $300,000 or more. He lives in Boston. Does have more Bentleys in Massachusetts? Does he have them trucked down for season? This gives you some idea how much money a billionaire has. Kraft has a reported net worth of $6.6 billion.

Ted Deutch’s “Climate” Handout to Farmers

Congressman Ted Deutch, a resident of West Boca Raton, is in the news today thanks to his bill that he claims will address climate change. What the mainstream media is not covering is how this bill would affect people and who benefits. A review of the bill text shows it’s designed to redistribute wealth and the biggest beneficiaries are farmers.

Deutch calls the bill “The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2018”. The general idea is to have a tax on greenhouse gas emissions (aka a carbon tax or fee) imposed “upstream” so the tax is not visible to consumers when they pay for things that are affected. Some of the money would be rebated to people – the so-called carbon dividend.

As always the devil is in the details and there’s a lot in this bill. The tax would start at $15 per metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions. A gallon of gas accounts for 0.009 metric tons. A 15-gallon tank is associated with 0.133 metric tons. So a 15-gallon tank of gas would cost an extra $2 for the consumer.

That’s where it starts. Every year the tax goes up $10 per ton, or another $1.33 per 15-gallon tank. In 3 years that means the cost of a 15-gallon tank is up by $5, not just $2.

It’s not just gasoline. It’s other fuels including coal and natural gas. But it’s also “carbon-intensive products” including:

iron, steel, steel mill products (including pipe and tube), aluminum, cement, glass (including flat, container, and specialty glass and fiberglass), pulp, paper, chemicals, or industrial ceramics.

So anything you buy that has steel, aluminum, glass, cement, and more in it will see price increases.

The most remarkable thing is the handout to farmers. They’re exempt from the tax. Technically they buy whatever fuel they buy at the same increased price as the rest of us, but they get the money back directly from the government. There’s an extra provision protecting farmers even more:

The carbon fee shall not be levied upon non-fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions which occur on a farm.

Agriculture is responsible for roughly 8% of US greenhouse gas emissions. It’s unclear why, as a policy matter, farmers should get a break from a tax the rest of us all pay. As a political matter it’s just one more example of farmers having outsize influence on politicians like Deutch.

Then we get to what happens with the money. This breaks down into two separate categories. Some of the money is collected from imports in the Carbon Border Fee. That money “may be used to supplement appropriations”. In other words, it goes straight to the government. Despite Deutch’s sales pitch that the money goes back to the people, the border tax part of the bill goes to the government, not us.

For the tax imposed on items within the US, that money goes into the “Carbon Dividend Trust Fund.” Up to 8% of that money will go to administrative expenses. After expenses the money goes to people as follows:

A carbon dividend payment is one pro-rata share for each adult and half a pro-rata share for each child under 19 years old, with a limit of 2 children per household, of amounts available for the month in the Carbon Dividend Trust Fund.

To qualify you have to be a

natural living person who has a valid Social Security number or taxpayer identification number and is a citizen or lawful resident of the United States

There are 73 million people receiving Medicaid or other low-income government healthcare benefits. Each will receive a “pro-rata” (equal) share. The wealthy and the middle class emit more greenhouse gases and will pay a much higher share of the taxes but the money will be distributed equally so it’s a scheme to take from the rich and middle class and give to the poor.

Deutch and friends ignore the science that says “progressive income redistribution in the United States could result in an increase in household carbon dioxide emissions” because “poorer households spend a bigger proportion of their income on carbon-intensive products and services.”

But the biggest steal of all is the farmers. They’re eligible for the dividend even though they’re exempt from the tax.

Deutch’s one-page summary of the bill is below. It is full of unsupported claims about job creation and reduced pollution. The full pdf is below that. We reached out to Deutch on both Twitter and Facebook to ask about these issues. As usual he did not respond. Deutch only deals with journalists who do not ask him tough questions. That’s not personal to him, but rather is typical for incumbents of either party who are in safely gerrymandered districts. He’s still a nice guy and by all accounts a good neighbor.

The bill pdf is below.

Single Point of Entry and Other Stupid School Security Suggestions

Single point of entry is one of the latest stupid ideas in school security. After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting happened next door to our community, the clamor for school security grew louder. The same Broward officials whose incompetence failed to prevent the shooting have been elevated by the media as experts.

Broward Schools superintendent Robert Runcie is touted in the Miami Herald with his plan: “The goal of the new measures is to create a single point of entry at schools.” Runcie is the “leader” whose “Promise” program kept Nikolas Cruz from being criminally prosecuted before the shooting. Criminal prosecution, even just with probation, might have prevented Cruz from getting and keeping guns.

Anyone who understands guns and game plans a school shooting can see the idiocy of single point of entry. Consider the photo below:

Imagine this area filled with 2000 students trying to get into the building and then picture how this looks to a psychopath with a rifle 100 yards away. It’s that stupid.

We had the joy of experiencing other stupid safety measures Thursday at the West Boca High football game against Palm Beach Lakes. Game time for all county high school football games was moved from 7 pm to 6 pm. Other than making it difficult for working parents to see their kids at the games, this accomplishes nothing. We also experienced the “clear bag only” policy which meant no camera bag for this journalist. I offered to let them search the bag, but they declined and I had to put it in my car. Yes that’s only a minor annoyance for me, but it’s also a minor annoyance for thousands of others.

$300K wunderkind Donald Fennoy heads the Palm Beach Schools. He admitted that these moves do nothing to address the shooting outside Palm Beach Central: “The measures announced Sunday would likely not have changed the outcome, Fennoy conceded.”

I’m not the first person to write about the stupidity of the school security mania. Lenore Skenazy, the free range children advocate, aptly described it as Security Theater for Schools. For those unfamiliar with the term: “Security theater is the practice of investing in countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to achieve it.”

Skenazy put it this way: “Schools are piling on the procedures as if the fact that someone, somewhere experienced a terrible tragedy once means that everyone, everywhere is at risk of terrible tragedies all the time.”

Fear makes folks irrational, which explains why any of these measures morphed into bona fide rules. But now that we’ve had a little time to think, it’s time to re-examine them with the kind of clearheadedness an 11-year-old recently showed.

“They want everyone to go in and out of the same door,” her mother explained. Whereupon the daughter wondered, “Won’t that just make it easier for someone who wanted to shoot or bomb people, because everyone will be in the same place?”

Whenever someone criticizes security measures, we hear the inevitable cry: “We have to do something!”. First of all, no we don’t. And second, we don’t have to do something stupid.

All these security measures cost money, which means less money to spend on things that might actually help, like good teachers. But don’t worry folks. Whatever we do, no administrator will be left behind.