Dennis Ward, State’s Attorney for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county.
A meeting in Tampa on Friday talked about the potential judicial consolidation between Monroe and Miami-Dade County.
Ward said, “It was the last chance for the citizens of the state of Florida to get involved in this issue. It was a last chance that they were allowing the public to speak. It was a great turnout, really, really good turnout. It was at the Hillsborough County Courthouse in their meeting room and it’s really a giant room. There wasn’t a seat left in the house. Representing Monroe County was Mayor Cates, who got up and spoke and spoke quite eloquently and Bob Shillinger, our county attorney who spoke very, very well and brought to the attention of the commission, how important it is when we elect our state attorney because since I think 1998 or ‘96 or something we’ve had a contested state attorney race every four years. I can attest to that because I’ve been involved in four of them now. That was a good point that he made and to take that opportunity to vote for their state attorney and public defender and the circuit court judges would be devastating to the way of life in our community here in the Florida Keys. There were a number of speakers that appeared virtually from the Florida Keys.”
A rally the Sunday before was very well attended.
If a consolidation would happen, the elected officials and the judges in Monroe County would certainly be coming from Miami, just because of differences in the number of voters.
Ward concurred, “There’s no question about that. It’s very concerning to everybody here. I saw on the television this morning, before I left, the fact that Miami is the number nine city in all the United States as far as congestion is concerned. We have a lot of people here that moved here from Miami, and they wanted to get away from things like that. They wanted to have the ability to put their kids in schools, where they don’t get bullied or beaten up because they do their homework. They want their kids to grow up in a nice environment, and they want them to be safe in their schools, and people want to be safe in their homes. When you talk about the circuit court judges, and the state attorney and the public defender, that’s the core of the judicial system, that’s the core of our public safety. So I can see where people are very, very scared about this, to tell you the truth, and very motivated to see that this doesn’t happen. We’re going to continue to fight this thing. I’m still very aware that this thing, it could go and with the way this these legislators are conducting themselves here falling all over themselves, to do whatever the governor wants them to do. Some, because they want to score points with this guy and others because they’re afraid of their political careers. I think more of these people are afraid of their political careers, whether they’re judges or state representatives or state senators, they’re afraid that this guy will retaliate against them, which he is pretty much known for. So we have that in the mix. It’s difficult to turn people around when they’re thinking that they’ve got a career and they’re going on to become President of the United States or whatever they’re going to run for and judges that one day may want to get promoted to a District Court seat, and possibly even the Florida Supreme Court. So I’m looking forward to a new Speaker of the House, which won’t happen this session. Renner is going to be the speaker, and this will be his final session, and his last day will be the last day of the session. As we all know, he’s carrying the governor’s water. I think he has visions of grandeur and wants to I’m hearing run for attorney general, or even better getting an appointment to the cabinet should the governor become president. So those are some of the issues going on.”
There is a committee that is hearing all the arguments from the public and the various officials and that committee will then make their recommendation to the Chief Judge of the Florida Supreme Court. The Chief Judge will then pass that along to Speaker Renner and Speaker Renner will decide whether or not he wants to put it on the legislative agenda for the upcoming session.
There has been an issue with the committee making decisions behind closed doors. They’ve been going into executive session to discuss the topic.
Ward said, “Executive Session, as we know, that’s what a lot of these government agencies go into when they discuss certain things, maybe labor issues and litigation. So what the committee is saying is, hey, we’re going to make our decision process close to the public. That’s basically what Executive Session means. They’re closing that portion of their decision making process to the public. The public and some of the news media agencies are saying, what’s your exemption? They’re saying, well, we’re exempt because this is a judicial situation, and judicial situations are exempt from Open Meetings. Well, the press has responded four of the members of that commission are civilians. So they’re not judges. There goes the legal argument back and forth there. We’ll see how that plays out.”
Could the decision be made with certain exemptions? Like could Monroe County be taken out of the consolidation?
Ward said, “They don’t have to do anything but come back with whatever they find out. I don’t know if they’re going to divide up circuits, if they’re going to do it, if the legislature is going to do it. I think it should come from the committee. I think some of the areas that are looking at consolidation, besides the Florida Keys is probably the Hillsborough Tampa area, the Orlando area, I think the areas in between there, Bartow and those circuits, and maybe even Tallahassee could be consolidated into another circuit.”
Is there hope that the consolidation may not happen?
Ward said, “I’m hopeful. But I’m keenly aware of how legislatures work, especially this one, especially when it’s the governor that’s driving this and they’ve done anything that he’s wanted them to do. That’s very, very concerning to me. I’m still very, very leery. We’ll fight it and fight it and fight it for as long as we need to.”