By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
In a little-noticed state court battle, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony is defending himself against several of his predecessor’s top brass. Tony has the advantage of using taxpayers’ dollars to defend his decision-making. So far, he’s losing.
Opposing Tony are Stephen Kinsey, former undersheriff to Sheriff Scott Israel and today chief of police in Davie, former Colonels John “Jack” Dale and James Polan and, in a separate civil case, ex-Major Chadwick Wagner.
The former BSO command staffers say Tony welched on promises made by Israel that BSO would pay them their earned, accrued and unused sick time leave when they resigned or retired days before Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Israel and replaced him with Tony on Jan. 11, 2019. Tony contends he has no obligation to honor any promises made by Israel “or any other man on this earth.”
“It comes down to (the discretion) of the sheriff. Not the previous sheriff, not the sheriff who made promises to people six years ago or on their way out the door,” Tony said in a Dec. 17 video-taped deposition.
Tony is scheduled to take the oath of office to continue as sheriff on Tuesday, Jan. 5.
Tony loses Round 1
In Wagner’s case, Broward Circuit Judge Keathan Frink disagreed with Tony’s assessment of his authority. Frink ruled in late July that Tony lacked the discretion to decline Wagner’s sick leave payout. The judge ordered BSO to pay Wagner, a former Hollywood police chief who joined BSO in 2013, $35,505 payout for unused sick time acquired over the course of his employment.
BSO, represented by the sheriff’s longtime labor attorney Carmen Rodriguez, quickly appealed to West Palm Beach’s Fourth District Court of Appeal. In her initial brief filed in November, Rodriguez argued that Frink erred, and that Tony does have the discretion to decline to pay Wagner’s unused sick time.
Further, Rodriguez noted that Tony approved a payment to Wagner “in excess of $53,000 for 774 hours of accrued annual leave,” an amount that “far exceeded the available payout of a maximum of up to 320 hours of annual leave” as provided for in the Sheriff’s Policy Manual. Because of that large discretionary payout, to which Wagner did not object, Tony decided Wagner “should not receive an additional payout” for unused sick time.
The appellate court has yet to rule.
The case of Kinsey, Dale and Polan, who like Wagner are represented by Fort Lauderdale attorney Tonja Haddad Coleman, makes parallel arguments to those of Wagner. Today, however, it is at a temporary crossroads because at his Dec. 17 deposition Sheriff Tony would not answer when asked if he’d ever been a defendant in a criminal case.
So four days before Christmas, Coleman asked Judge Michele Towbin Singer to order Tony to answer such questions. The judge will hear arguments on Coleman’s motion to compel at a Zoom hearing on Jan. 20.
When asked the question, attorney Rodriguez immediately objected and Tony said, “What’s the – yeah. I’m trying to figure out the relevance behind the questions.”
Rodriguez, asserting that “this line of question is in bad faith,” went on to note that she is not a “criminal attorney. And I will not allow the sheriff to testify as to any matters without the proper representation of counsel as it relates to any criminal issue because I’m not the correct attorney to represent him in these proceedings.”
Coleman explained at the deposition that such questions are relevant because “the sole basis of your defense in this case – being BSO’s defense, not your personally obviously – is Sheriff Tony’s discretion” when he denied the payments.
“Sheriff Tony has therefore, put his personal thoughts and decision-making (his ‘discretion’) directly at issue in this mater, delegating him as the sole decision-maker,” Coleman told the judge in her motion to compel.
Questions about Tony’s criminal history initially arose last May after Florida Bulldog first reported that when Tony was 14 years old and living in a crime-ridden Philadelphia neighborhood he shot and killed a young man. Tony has said he killed in self-defense, an account disputed by the dead man’s girlfriend. Tony was acquitted a year later, 1994, in Philadelphia’s juvenile court. All records in the case are sealed.
During last year’s election campaign, copies of two Philadelphia docket sheets emerged that purport to show that as a juvenile in 1992 and 1994 Tony was twice placed on adult probation. The docket sheets, however, do not state the charges against Tony or their disposition.
A trio of lawsuits filed against Tony by a half-dozen losing candidates, Democrats, Republicans and an independent, used those docket sheets and other information to contend that Tony is a convicted felon who is ineligible to hold office in Florida under the state Constitution.
The first of those suits was voluntarily withdrawn by the plaintiffs on Dec. 17. Two other cases, filed by former Sheriff Israel – who lost to Tony in the August Democratic primary – and Republican H. Wayne Clark, remain pending.
In addition to Tony, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was named as a defendant and the plaintiffs sought to obtain FDLE records that might cast more light on Tony’s criminal history. In a surprise development on Nov. 24, FDLE Inspector Keith Riddick filed a sworn affidavit in which he publicly acknowledged for the first time that his department was investigating Tony for making a false declaration under oath in January 2020 and was also attempting to determine if the sheriff has lied to cover up that he’s a convicted felon.
“FDLE currently has an open and active investigation into the allegations that Gregory Tony may have falsified required affidavits associated with his sworn law enforcement officer status and/or falsified official law enforcement employment applications,” Riddick wrote. “The status of FDLE’s investigation into Gregory Tony remains ongoing as to Plaintiff’s allegations as well as other undisclosed matters that will remain confidential.”
Riddick went on the state that subpoenas issued by the Broward State Attorney’s Office were served on various Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies as long ago as May 11, but that no responses had been received as of the date he filed his affidavit in November.