By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Fort Lauderdale heart doctor and major GOP fundraiser Zachariah P. Zachariah has picked up two influential allies in advance of his federal insider stock-trading trial this summer.
Former Florida Attorney General and top Democrat Bob Butterworth and Fourth District Court of Appeals Judge Melanie May, both Broward residents, testified under oath two weeks ago as character witnesses for Zachariah.
Their depositions are not public, and neither responded to requests for comment. They are identified in court records.
Judge May supported Zachariah despite judicial rules that discourage testifying as a character witness.
Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from giving such testimony voluntarily “because to do so may lend the prestige of the judicial office in support of the party for whom the judge testifies.” It says judges may testify if subpoenaed, but nevertheless “should discourage a party from requiring the judge to testify as a character witness…except in unusual circumstances where the demands of justice require.”
A source said Judge May testified in response to a subpoena from Zachariah. Whether she took any steps to discourage such testimony is not publicly known.
Zachariah, former chairman of the Florida Board of Medicine who has raised millions of dollars for Republicans, is accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of using nonpublic information to rake in more than $400,000 in profits from illegal stock trades in 2005. You can read about the alleged scheme here.
His trial on those civil charges is set for Aug. 23 before U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra. If Zachariah loses, the case could be referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
Two other Holy Cross Hospital physicians, including Zachariah’s brother, agreed to substantial payouts last December to settle federal civil charges that they acted on Zachariah’s stock tips to reap tens of thousands of dollars in illegal windfalls. You can read about those settlements here.
Butterworth has personal and political connections to Zachariah, dating back two decades. For example, in 2001 Zachariah performed a balloon angioplasty on Butterworth, and implanted a stent in his chest, to repair a clogged artery.
Federal and state campaign records show that Butterworth is one of only two Democrats – Broward State Attorney Mike Satz is the other – to snag a campaign contribution from Zachariah since the mid 1990s.
In 2002, Butterworth’s office quoted Zachariah in a press release announcing an attorney general’s initiative that sought to prevent doctor-shopping for illegal narcotics prescriptions.
Miami attorney Curtis Minor, who represents Zachariah, did not respond to requests to discuss why the testimony of Butterworth and Judge May was sought.
But Butterworth, a former Broward sheriff and judge, is a political Mr. Clean who over the years has helped mop up some of Florida’s most unsightly government messes. In 2007, for example, Gov. Charlie Crist brought in Butterworth to head Florida’s troubled Department of Children and Families.
Crist turned to Butterworth again in May when he appointed him and former Republican Attorney General Jim Smith to spearhead the state’s legal advisory team on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. Butterworth also serves today on a blue-ribbon ethics panel appointed to review the Broward school district’s operations following the corruption arrest of former board member Beverly Gallagher.
Butterworth has used his stature to help others in trouble.
In 2007, at the sentencing of former Sheriff Ken Jenne, Butterworth told a judge about the personal sacrifices Jenne made for his job before his conviction on corruption charges.
“He literally almost gave his life doing it,” Butterworth said before Jenne drew a shorter than expected prison term. “My hat is off to him.”
Zachariah’s lawyers also called two other character witnesses. One was Ocala Republican and former Florida Board of Governors member Carolyn Roberts.