CONNECT WITH:

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

As Broward’s courthouse task force steamrolls ahead with its $328 million building plan for a new downtown government high-rise, it will have to do so without Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.stackingdiagram3

Finkelstein has resigned, claiming the task force established to assess the need for a new courthouse has morphed into a body that’s now looking to decide “who gets contracts and for how much.”

“I also find it distressing that members, myself included, are now being approached by lobbyists and companies who want a ‘piece of the pie’ dollars for construction issues,” Finkelstein said in a March 26 letter to task force chairwoman, County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman.

The letter was posted on JAABlog, an online source of Broward courthouse coverage run by local lawyers.

The task force is made up of a dozen lawyers, judges and elected officials who came up with plans for a new courthouse that were approved by the county commission last summer.

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

In this architectural rendering, the First Presbyterian Church is in the foreground. Behind it are the proposed Family Life Center and separate parking garage/office building along Las Olas Boulevard.

In this architectural rendering, the First Presbyterian Church is in the foreground. Behind it are the proposed Family Life Center and separate parking garage/office building along Las Olas Boulevard.

Three years ago, Fort Lauderdale’s First Presbyterian Church lost a fight with neighbors to build $25-million family center, parking garage and other facilities in the city’s historic Colee Hammock district.

The defeat, however, wasn’t a knockout.

The church goes back to the city’s planning and zoning board April 21 with a new proposal intended to address neighbors’ concerns.

Some of Fort Lauderdale’s oldest and most influential names have a stake in the outcome – as congregation members or nearby homeowners. They include: Huizenga, Bryan, Egan, Maus, Blosser, Stiles, Horvitz, Cobb.

Church leaders say the proposed construction on church-owned land south of Las Olas Boulevard between Tarpon Drive and Southeast 15th Avenue is desperately needed to fulfill its ministry.

Vivian Blake

Vivian Blake

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Vivian Blake’s peaceful death in a Kingston, Jamaica hospital bed March 21 is a grim contrast to his life steeped in violence – much of it in South Florida.

Blake, formerly of Miramar, was a founder of the “Shower Posse,” a politically connected drug gang that got its name from the bullets it rained down on its enemies.

Despite the dope, death and political muscle that still defines the gang today, Blake died of natural causes at age 53.

Federal authorities on the front lines of the cocaine wars in the 1980s and early 1990s said the Shower Posse and its offshoots murdered about 1,400 people nationwide. That’s more men, women and children than live in the town of Sea Ranch Lakes.

Ron Book

Ron Book

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Flagged by Broward officials for a conflict of interest, county lobbyist Ron Book has agreed to stop pushing for a new state law that county officials say would seriously undermine Broward’s pretrial intervention program and cost local taxpayers millions.

The new law is being sought by another of Book’s clients, the Florida bail bond industry. It would restrict access to county-run pretrial release programs by establishing new, statewide eligibility requirements for defendants seeking to get out of jail, forcing the county to spend more in keeping inmates behind bars.

County support for the pretrial program has wavered over the years; nevertheless, critics say Book should not be involved in representing the bail bond industry on the issue.

Broward County pays Book $53,000 a year plus $2,000 in expenses to lobby in Tallahassee.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Lois Wexler said that if passed the law would “decimate” local pretrial release programs and place huge financial burdens on counties across the state.

The Florida Supreme Court

The Florida Supreme Court

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Following up on a decision three years ago that barred judges and court clerks from hiding civil court cases from public view, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the same ban on secrecy also applies to criminal cases.

Also on Thursday, the justices wrote new rules forbidding the falsification of official court records – including the public docket – to shield informants.

The Miami Herald reported in 2006 how judges and prosecutors in Miami-Dade had altered the public docket to cover up the felony convictions of informants.

“That’s a clear victory for the public,” said Miami First Amendment attorney Thomas Julin. “It ensures we’re not going to have falsified records in the public court files that are misleading to the public.”