The Shameful Miami Dade County Ethics Commission
Do Lawyers and Lobbyists Lie?
Once again the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission on Ethics and Public Trust has demonstrated that its officials do not know the difference between good and evil or right and wrong and tend to favor their own kind if affluent or influential hence are unworthy of the public respect that the county charter requires from citizens as the precedent of public service.
This instance appertains to whether or not an affluent lobbying lawyer with an influential law firm lied when he testified that he unintentionally failed to register with the City of Miami Beach as a lobbyist for a developer because he had just been retained by that client and was in a rush to represent it.
I had sent the COE a list of several lobbyists who had either failed to register or to make the required disclosures on the registration forms. Most of the wayward lobbyists happened to represent the interests of developers including the mayor or donors to his political interests.
The commission dragged its feet for over a year, but when pressed to do something allowed the violators who ran the red lights to go around the block and wait for green lights; i.e. to fill out the forms, and even then incompletely.
The salient point in this case is that all violators went scot-free. Not one relatively small statutory fine was imposed on the affluent lobbyists and their wealthy clients. The excuse for their class is usually that compliance and not punishment is the purpose of the law. Knowing that, and the unlikelihood that anyone will bother to know lobbying ordinances and then report violations, wrong is done so long that wrong seems right. As everyone serving time for tax evasion knows, “voluntary compliance” is not obtained without punishment, for there is no law absent sanctions certain.
The commission decided that the failure of the lobbying lawyer who failed to file a form at all was inadvertent and therefore it was not in the public interest to impose any penalty. I pointed out that the lawyer may have lied about his sudden retention by the client and his emergency rush to represent him before a city board inasmuch as I discovered evidence that he had represented the same client before a city magistrate two months prior.
I presented that evidence to COE Advocate Michael Murawski a year ago, asking him to look into whether or not the lawyer had perjured himself, and I also inquired why the other violators were not charged for failing to abide by a certain disclosure requirement. Of course I copied “Sleeping Joe” Centorino.
Murawski never replied despite several follow-ups. Therefore I contacted the COE yesterday and asked whether or not the possibility of perjury had been looked into by the commission, and whether or not the lawyer’s testimony was given under oath under penalty of perjury. Ethics commission staff has repeated assured the public that, even if the COE has no jurisdiction over a particular kind of complaint, if the complaint is about criminal misconduct, then it will turn the complaint over to the state attorney.
I had pointed out to Murawski that a resident of Miami Beach had recently alleged to the commission that the same lawyer had lied to another city board, an allegation that supported the need for the COE to inquire into whether the lobbyist had perpetrated a fraud upon the ethics commission.
A terse response was immediately forthcoming. The COE had no jurisdiction, I was told, and complaints about lawyers must be made to the Florida Bar. My question as to whether the lawyer testified under penalties of perjury was not answered.
The only complaint I would consider filing with the Florida Bar is against lawyers who fail to report misconduct of other lawyers as is required by their Rules. Sadly, if all lawyers reported other lawyers for lying in court, the Florida Bar would be overwhelmed for quite some time.
My modus operandi is to publicly report on what appears to be misconduct, then circle back and ask what has been done with the information. I responded that I had no complaint about the attorney; my complaint was about the negligence of the leadership in making such decisions.
Further inquiry was certainly in order as to whether the case should be reopened because of possible fraud on the quasi-judicial ethics commission. The lobbying lawyer might very well have some sophistry to offer if not factual exculpatory evidence of his presumed innocence.
I called the COE response given me “a gem of hypocrisy,” and said the leadership should hang their heads in shame over the weekend at least.
The COE is notorious for its failure to follow ordinary principles of procedure and to itself break the very rules it is supposed to be enforcing. One of the most egregious instances was in a matter I was familiar with. A complaint was made, to which City of Miami Beach officials responded, and the COE simply took their statements for granted as the absolute truth instead of allowing the complainant to respond with further evidence to show that the city manager had transgressed the laws he was charged with upholding and that the manager’s underlings were prevaricating. It was as if the dismissal were foregone before the complaint was made.
It became increasingly obvious to me that powerful political forces are at work to which the COE is subject. It just so happens at this juncture that the mayor of the City of Miami Beach is a close friend of Hillary Clinton and owes his seat as a strong mayor in a city with a weak mayor charter not only to the millions he spent setting up his slate of commissioners but to the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton.
Now the COE, despite the few good deeds that it has done, is the butt of jokes among those familiar with its proceedings. Most amazing of all is that it pretends to teach ethics, the subject of which is the public good, to government officials, while it is itself rife with hypocrisy, ignorance and incompetence. Its ethics, by the way, has little to do with the subject of what is good for the society as a whole. “Legal ethics” is its domain, and that is basically the legalization of unethical conduct obvious to common sense.
By using their sovereign discretion to spin or interpret the legal ethics code one way or another, the power elite including their sophists manage to narrow liability for unethical conduct to a bare minimum. That is why the COE is often called “the unethical ethics commission,” and “a joke on the people.” Power does indeed corrupt at least the attitudes of the powerful, whose feelings of power convince them they are better than others and thus privileged to favor themselves and their ilk.
The ethics commission board is dominated by prestigious lawyers: Judge Lawrence A. Schwartz now presides as chairman, Jeffrey Cutler of De La Cruz & Cutler as vice-chairman, and Nelson Bellido, who taught business law and worked for the state attorney before going into private practice. They are joined by Marcia Narine, professor of such subjects as social responsibility and legal ethics, and Judith Bernier, who directs academic programs such as career mobility and gender equality.
The COE in regards to its investigative staff has been characterized as a retirement farm for old prosecutors. Its executive director is Joseph M. Centorino, a veteran state attorney referred to affectionately or otherwise as “Sleeping Joe” for his tendency to doze off over complaints instead of having them diligently investigated.
I first met Centorino at a conference held by the COE for journalists. During that conference he insisted that the City of Miami Beach has cleaned up its act. His statement was followed by the arrests of several Miami Beach officials, and the replacement of the regime by a so-called reform regime that amounts to a changing of the guard and the continuation of corrupt influences. More arrests are expected in the future.