Last night at the GLEE awards ceremony in Marathon, I met and spoke at some length with Manny Madruga, who is running for Circuit Judge, and then with Dennis Ward, who is running for State Attorney. I liked what I saw and heard.
Manny has been an assistant prosecutor for 17 years in the local State Attorney Office. He prosecuted a lot of tough and serious cases, including the recent Louis LaTorre case. He was clearly disturbed over the injuries inflicted by LaTorre on the poor woman who was driving on her own side of the road. And just as disturbed by the way LaTorre tried to get out of it and the tactics his lawyers used. Manny said he heard LaTorre spent $150,000 defending the case and it is being said his mother mortgaged her home for it. Whether LaTorre’s mother actually did that, is what is being said. That LaTorre spent that much money trying to get out of it, I imagine was pretty close to the mark.
Personally, I don’t know how any lawyer could stand before that jury with a straight face and asked them to acquit LaTorre. If he had been my client and had not taken my advice to plead the case out, I would have resigned as his lawyer. No way could I tell a jury to let him off, when was no dispute that he was out drinking all one evening and night and into the wee hours, and then got in his car and drove it on the wrong side of the road and ran head on into another car, nearly killing the woman driving it.
Manny said she was in a coma for a month, and if she had died, LaTorre would have been prosecuted for manslaughter. Were I in her shoes, I’d probably be wishing I had been killed, for her life is ruined. She cannot walk. She cannot make love or have children. Her mind doesn’t work right. She doesn’t remember the past sixteen years of my life, I think was the extent of her amnesia Manny described last night. Someone who causes that kind of injury after drinking all evening and night into the wee hours needs to do time. I imagine if Manny was instead the judge who tried that case, he would not be inclined to grant LaTorre’s post conviction bail request.
Dennis Ward also would be tough on crime. He was a beat cop and detective for many years in Miami, before he went to law school. He caught and put away a lot of criminals. He liked and was dedicated to his job. After graduating from law school, he worked a couple of years in the Monroe County State Attorney Office, getting his feet wet in that part of the criminal justice system. Then, he became an Assistant Public Defender in the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office, operating out of the Tavernier division.
Dennis said last night that the State Attorney’s Office loses 80 percent of its cases in Tavernier. When I asked if he had anything to do with that, Dennis smiled, said he wins a lot of his cases. Obviously, he knows how to try criminal cases. He would apply his cop and detective experience to his trial experience, and would win cases for the people, just like Manny Madruga has been doing. And, based on what he said last night, Dennis would use polygraph examinations to help him evaluate the reliability of people who report or witness crimes he investigates.
Dennis was disturbed that Mark Kohl had disclosed to County Commissioner Mario DiGennaro that Bill Becker, a popular local radio journalist, had made inquiry about whether a sunshine investigation was in progress over a backroom deal two people told Bill had occurred between Mario and his regular allies on the County Commission, Dixie Spehar and Sonny McCoy. Dennis said he could not believe Mark identified a source information, who had not filed a formal complaint. I concurred, and we agreed that the State Attorney needs to be tougher on sunshine law violations.
Dennis was even more disturbed about a domestic violence case Mark handled himself. A Keys woman was seen by two witnesses to be severely beaten up by her husband, or maybe it was her boyfriend. Dennis said Mark was slow to investigate. Then, when the woman said she didn’t want to press charges, Mark did not prosecute. Not long afterward she was killed by the man the two witnesses had seen beat her up. I said Mark could have prosecuted even if the woman did not want to press charges. Dennis agreed: with two independent witnesses, the case should have been prosecuted no matter what the woman wanted. He said judges are now issuing contempt orders against battered spouses, who do not come to court to testify. Dennis said that if the case had been prosecuted, it might have given the woman two more years to live. I did not ask, but I imagine the man who had beat her up would have been behind bars for that long.
Dennis kept saying Mark Kohl needs to be reached, persuaded to do things differently. Dennis also kept saying he really doesn’t want to run for State Attorney. He doesn’t even like politics. He likes being a public defender, but he sees a crying need for a change and feels compelled to run even though he doesn’t want to do it and doesn’t have the money or political backing to finance a major campaign against Mark. The more Dennis lamented, the more I shook my head and said read my lips: Mark Kohl will not change. I did not say it last night, but I wonder if Mark would have prosecuted the Louis LaTorre case with the same vigor Manny Madruga did it?
I told Manny last night that he ought to run for State Attorney (before I met and spoke with Dennis Ward). Manny said he could not run against his own boss. I said yes he could. But I’m glad he’s running for retiring Circuit Judge Sandra Taylor’s position. Manny will be tough on crime. As will Dennis Ward. The Bubbas will get the same treatment from them that the rest of the people get. Equal protection, and equal prosecution, under the law.
Sloan Bashinsky, non-partisan county commission candidate, District 2
Political advertisement, perhaps in the Land of OZ, written, approved and paid for by me