Undercurrents

Bob Norman sends the Broward County School Board bureaucrats scurrying

If anything is to be learned from the recent Irish Republican Army gunrunning case in Fort Lauderdale, it's never to underestimate federal prosecutor Richard Scruggs' capacity for dramatics. Scruggs, a former Janet Reno right-hand man, went over the top when he tacked terrorism charges, which carry life sentences, onto the IRA case. Unfortunately Scruggs forgot that the terrorism statutes are clearly aimed at groups who plan violence in America, not in an age-old political conflict overseas.A jury acquitted the three Irish Catholic defendants of the terrorism charges, but they were convicted of lesser gun charges. After the jury's decision, a stung Scruggs promised: "I'll be back." Oh, wait, that was the Terminator. Scruggs' catch phrase was "This isn't over."

He wasn't lying. Last Thursday morning a fourth defendant, Siobhan Browne, was scheduled to be sentenced for a small role in the gunrunning case; back in March she'd pleaded to weapons charges. She was expected to get between 18 and 24 months in prison, and everybody was there for her sentencing: Browne, her attorney, her probation officer, reporters, and the judge, Wilkie Ferguson. Everybody, that is, but Scruggs, who cell-phoned instructions to a substitute prosecutor. Scruggs insisted that Browne be sentenced with the other defendants on August 18. Wilkinson called off the sentencing and Browne, who could have possibly been eligible for a halfway house after the sentencing, was left with the sword still hanging over her head.

Browne's lawyer, Albert Levin, wasn't pleased, naturally. But Levin thinks he knows one reason why Scruggs wants all the defendants in one place: The prosecutor needs an audience for his next performance. "He wants to put on a big show before the judge on the 18th, and he wants them all there when he does it," Levin says.


One might expect to hear school bells chiming at the Broward County School Board, but apparently it was alarm bells that sent the bureaucrats scurrying last week, due to phone calls from a reporter. The paranoia was palpable in a memo from the office of Superintendent Frank Till that found its way to Undercurrents.If you go to the nexus of money and power in South Florida, lobbyists are undoubtedly nearby, and it's a concern when they are paid with tax dollars. So why shouldn't reporters be interested? New Times staff writer Bob Norman wanted to know why the amount of taxpayer money going to lobbyists at the school board had more than doubled. (See "A Lesson in Conflict" on page 9.)

Apparently Norman's questions sent the spin-control machine at the board into overdrive, evidenced in this memo from Donna Justino, the executive secretary to Superintendent Till. In our book the memo deserves a failing grade.

fyi -- Bob Normand [oops -- spelling mistake, 10 points off grade] a New Times Reporter [no need for uppercase, not an official title; another 10-point reduction] has called Dr. Till for information on a story he is doing on lobbyists for [needs "the," minus 10] School Board [no need for uppercase, minus 10]. This is an aggressive, investigative paper [plus 10 for accuracy], and the story won't be positive. Dr. Till wanted the board members to be forewarned since he [unclear antecedent: Till or Norman? minus 10] may call them as well.

So much for those improved FCAT scores. As for whether the story is negative or positive, it may depend on whether you think lobbyists paid with tax dollars deserve close scrutiny.

 
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