Consolidating the Monroe County State Attorney’s office into Miami-Dade County came out of nowhere

August 3 – Last week the Speaker of the House in the Florida legislature proposed consolidating a number of jurisdictions, including Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward’s office into Miami-Dade County.

The potential move could present a number of difficulties.

Ward said, “Came up out of nowhere. Most people didn’t even know about it. Specifically the Attorney General and our state representative Mooney, when I sent the information to him, he had no idea this was going on. I think it’s a one man show by the Speaker of the House. In his letter to the Florida Supreme Court, he specifically mentioned the amount of people that Dade County represents, 2.7 million as opposed to and he used the 100,000 for Monroe County, the 16th Judicial Circuit. So first of all, he’s wrong there because I think probably what he needs to do is take a look at how many people visit the Florida Keys from all over the world. And how many of them end up getting arrested for whatever crimes they commit, whether it’s DUIs or driving on suspended licenses or selling drugs.”

Monroe County and the Keys do tend to get criminal traffic every year.

Ward said, “Know that if you come down here and commit a crime, you’re going to prison. We’ll do everything we can to put you in prison. There’s other priorities that we have here in the Keys. I mean, specifically, our fish and wildlife, our natural resources. So I don’t it think would be a priority in a jurisdiction as big as Dade County is. So that’s very concerning to me, because I think it will be an attack on our way of life down here, our safety, not only for our residents, but for tourists that come down here.”

There are times that it seems as though Miami-Dade is more lenient on crime.

Ward said, “The sheriff and I made a commitment to one another. We want Monroe County to be the safest county in the state. We will do what it takes to do that.”

There are some upcoming cases that Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Ward’s office share together.

Ward said, “We’re prosecuting, because we can’t get federal authorities to do it. Like the 23 people that were smuggled into the country a couple of weeks ago, 23 of them. The United States Attorney’s Office is not going to prosecute him. So my office is going to prosecute these human smugglers. The check fraud case at the post office in Marathon, we got no assistance, zero assistance from the federal authorities, specifically the post office investigator. We have all that on our plate, as well as just the regular, normal day, routine type of crimes that we investigate. It’s these little crimes that you have to keep your eye on because that’s the glue that keeps the county’s safety together.”

This change could also mean different courts would need to be used.

Ward noted, “I think they would keep a couple of courts. This is all just speculation. I would imagine that the 11th Judicial Circuit state attorney is having problems staffing her office the same way that we’re having problems. I’m sure she doesn’t want to be saddled with a headache of trying to find prosecutors, to man three courtrooms down here. The chief judge up there would be in charge of assignments for judges down here. I would think that probably right off the bat, they would get rid of the Marathon courthouse and just take Key West and Plantation Key.”

What could the motivation be for this from the Speaker of the House?

Ward suggested, “In his letter he talks about they created a sixth District Court of Appeals. And that’s probably going to cost over $100 million to put that thing together with just building a new courthouse and I think seven judges at a quarter of a million dollars a year that their staff. Then security and then a clerk’s office in there. There was testimony given that we didn’t need another district court of appeals. The District Court of Appeals cases were down significantly. So why create this thing? There’s some speculation that there was some attorneys up in Jacksonville, the area where the Speaker’s from, that were complaining to him about not getting appointments to DCA and the Florida Supreme Court, and that motivated that, according to some people. Now because they have that, let’s look at reducing or consolidating some of these circuits, so we can save the people, the taxpayers money, and nothing could be further from the truth. It’ll ruin the Keys and the Keys is a big moneymaker for the state of Florida. And that’s fact. We get visited by people from all over the world. I think I’ve heard that we pretty much deal with 3.75 million people a year here. I heard Commissioner Coldiron talking on the shows saying 5 million and that’s probably with cruise ships coming in and day trippers. How do you count people that stay in vacation rentals?”

What is the next step for this?

Ward said, “He asked the chief judge because procedurally you have to do this. He asked the chief judge to establish a committee to look into it. So the chief judge did. I think our closest representative is the public defender in Dade County. The rest are from the central and northern part of the state. I guess they will sit and review data statistics presented to them by the various court administrative people and come to a conclusion on whether we need to be consolidated or not. There is a couple of public hearings that are going to come up.”

The first in person one will be August 25 and the decision hasn’t been made as to whether it will be in Tampa or Orlando.

Ward continued, “This committee will make its findings and they will present that to the Speaker, I think probably the first week of December, so the speaker can put it up in front of the legislature for their consideration. I think the legislative session starts early this year, because it’s an election year and that’ll be January, I believe.”

In other cases, the Big Coppitt Key shooting could be elevated to murder one.

Ward said, “My chief assistant is going to take that before the grand jury. We’re going to send out some notifications to get them to take a look at that case and see if they agree with us that there was premeditation used in this homicides that we can upgrade that to a first degree homicide.”