By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Let's face it. Get busted on a DUI in the Sunshine State and you're screwed. Even if you somehow get past the criminal charges and a date with Bubba in cellblock 19 you still have to contend with some onerous civil penalties. These are fines and restrictions that are routinely doled out in a fearsome star chamber for motorists, an extension of the clunky Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles called the Bureau of Administrative Review. BAR (some legislative wag must have anticipated the ironic acronym) is a harsh, no-win venue.
Get drunk at the bar (or be suspected of having gotten drunk at the bar), then drive your car and you'll get whacked at the BAR, no question about it. The kangaroos are always in session.
Tailpipe isn't for letting drunk drivers go free, but there should be a semblance of justice to the process. In the BAR, "hearing officers," not judges, preside, and there's no requirement that they have any legal training whatsoever. Some have little more than a high school diploma. When New Times' Trevor Aaronson visited the Broward BAR two years ago, hearing officer Martha Roldan magisterially delivered her own pithy readings of the law, in one case explaining to a man who was making his first appearance in court: "It's very complicated, very difficult to understand. It's all legal stuff."
Well, sometimes these unschooled magistrates have to muddle through cases, you say. So what? Whiskey-crazed felons deserve everything they get. Fine 'em big-time and flush their licenses down the toilet (which, in effect, is what the BAR does).
But it's not just a matter of a high-minded official who's a little short of legal expertise doling out penalties. The hearing officer has help. One of the duties of DHSMV court attorneys is to serve as legal consultants for the hearing officers. That's the equivalent of having a prosecutor in a criminal case interpret the law for a judge. Even the most radical law-and-order advocates would have to admit that such a system would be biased against a defendant.
In October 2003, attorney Sam Fields filed a lawsuit on behalf of his client, Lighthouse Point resident Craig Tidey, that challenged the authority of the DHSMV courts. Fields showed that even DUI offenders who had their criminal charges thrown out for lack of evidence or a technicality still had their driver's licenses suspended in DHSMV court.
Evidence presented at the trial two weeks ago was startling. A former hearing officer testified that she was instructed to interpret the law in ways that the agency would always prevail. The woman who runs the DHSMV courts in Broward could not articulate the legal meaning of hearsay. DHSMV officials admitted that they counsel hearing officers who rule against the agency too often.
"Can you imagine if that was done in criminal courts?" Fields tells the 'Pipe. "'Judge, we've been keeping track you've had too many not guilties in your courtroom. You have to meet with the Supreme Court judge. '"
On December 29, following a two-day trial, Broward Circuit Court Judge Leonard Fleetissued an order that called the DHSMV courts "constitutionally unacceptable" and demanded a stop to the practice of unqualified judges' consulting with prosecutors about matters of law.
Of course, the state has appealed Fleet's ruling, and despite the judgment, the DHSMV's kangaroo courts will continue to operate in Broward and throughout Florida. State law allows for a temporary stay until the Fourth District Court of Appeals makes its decision. That could take another year.
It's a tough fight when your opponent is the government.
"Whenever the government is involved," Fields says, "they seem to have different sets of rules about things."
For a brief moment, the attention focused on Arthur Vanmoor seemed to snuff his scam out cold. After New Times' December 22 story exposed his fraudulent websites, they went dark for several days as national and local media not to mention law enforcement picked up and ran with the story. But a few days later, cancercure.org and its sister sites, flucure.com, migrainecure.org, and flufighter.net were again peddling placebo products to more unsuspecting sick folks. The nearly identical portals are the target of a lawsuit initiated by the FDA (that's the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, folks, and not the "Fighting Disease Association" mentioned on Vanmoor's sites).
On December 29, Judge Joan A. Lenard issued a summons for Vanmoor to appear in a Miami courtroom to face the charges.
In the meantime, the web pages still promise instant miracle cures for those suffering from the flu, cancer, or a migraine headache. Taking a gander at the Q&A section of each site, it's obvious the brains behind these operations are feeling the pressure, and some of the flippant responses may, in fact, tip off savvy consumers. Each page is identical, exchanging Migraine Miracle for Cancer Control and Flu Fighter and Cold & Flu Formula in the text and supplying the same answers for the same questions:
Q: If Cancer Control really cures cancer, why has my doctor not told me about it?
A: You must have a bad doctor who's [sic] primary concern is his mortgage bills that need to be paid and his kids extra lessons to help them through school. Your health is of secondary concern. Obviously, your doctor does not make as much money if you get cured quickly.