By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
A Miami-Dade judge who President Obama is considering to be South Florida’s next U.S. Attorney once falsified official court records in apparent violation of state law.
Judge Daryl Trawick, right, instructed the clerk’s office to alter the public court docket in 2002 at the request of state prosecutors seeking to protect a drug informant. A secret docket was kept so Trawick could keep track of what was actually happening.
Florida law makes it a crime for anyone – including judges, clerks or “other public officers” – to alter or falsify court records or proceedings. Violators can be sent to prison for a year.
Trawick declined comment through a spokeswoman. But in a statement to The Miami Herald two years ago, the judge acknowledged that he had approved altering the docket in the case of defendant Salim Batrony.
Trawick, appointed to the bench in 1997 by Gov. Lawton Chiles, is one of three U.S. Attorney finalists recommended to the president by a federal nominating commission. The others are assistant county attorney Wifredo “Willy” Ferrer and Miami lawyer David M. Buckner.
Buckner, too, was involved in a controversial case of extraordinary secrecy when he was an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami in 2003-2004. His specific actions are not known because federal court files about the case remain almost completely hidden from public view.
Buckner, a shareholder at Miami’s Kozyak Tropin Throckmorton, said this week that existing court orders prohibit him from discussing it.
The case involved a habeas corpus petition filed by a Deerfield Beach man from Algeria who was detained for five months by federal agents without criminal charge in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. Such cases are traditionally open, but at the apparent request of prosecutors, Miami U.S. District Court Judge Paul C. Huck sealed it completely from the outset.
Mohamed Kamel Bellahouel’s legal bid for freedom was so secret that even the case number was veiled. Such extreme secrecy, however, had been declared unconstitutional a decade before by an Atlanta federal appeals court in U.S. v Valenti because it deprived “the public and the press meaningful access” to court proceedings.
Bellahouel’s case remained hidden for more than a year until an error by a court clerk let it out. News of the case’s existence sparked a national debate about excessive secrecy in the nation’s courts.
In the state court case before Judge Trawick, 10 phony docket entries were used to make it appear that criminal charges had been dropped against Batrony, a drug defendant who was secretly cooperating with police. In fact, Batrony had pleaded guilty to felony drug money laundering.
The bogus docket entries remained on the public court record for four years – until reporters started asking questions. Trawick said in his statement two years ago that the secrecy was meant to be temporary, and was not intended to “arbitrarily conceal case activity.”
Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission investigated after a Broward judge complained. The JQC later said it found no evidence of wrongdoing, but by the time it investigated the 10 phony docket entries had been deleted from the public court docket.
A spokesman for the court clerk told a reporter the clerk’s office nevertheless maintained the deleted false entries on a non-public side of the electronic docket. He said the JQC never asked to see those records.