Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 8:55 a.m.
Yesterday I called the Tea Party rotten and its members "yahoos." As an exhibit to support that characterization, I submit the above video of Danita Kilcullen, founder of the Fort Lauderdale Tea Party,
Kilcullen is another one of those warmongers talking about starting a revolution in America. In the clip, she's talking to a Tea Party crowd in April of last year.
"I'm telling you, it's going to be up to the people, whatever that means," she said. "It's going to be up to the people. Because if we don't get them elected... who's on our side, who are conservative, then they are going to push and push and push us until there is revolution -- or we die. It's that simple."
"Whatever that means," is Kilcullen's version of "by any means necessary." It was a call to arms.
These are the people to whom your governor is pandering. You can either be afraid or do something about it.
-- You may have seen that former Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones was acquitted on corruption charges by a jury. Inside, see why the verdict should give those politicians facing similar criminal charges in Broward no sense of relief.
The case filed against Spence-Jones was a bit like the unfiled case against Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman being investigated by the State Attorney's Office.
Spence-Jones was accused of soliciting $25,000 for a charity she was operating from developer Armando Codina in exchange for a vote. Lieberman's favorite charity, the Transplant Foundation, received $25,000 from dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait before the Broward politician voted to approve the Chaits' controversial housing development in Tamarac.
The difference in the Spence-Jones case is that the developer who was allegedly "shaken down" by Spence-Jones, Codina, testified that he gave the contribution of his own volition and would have given it regardless of the vote. Oh, and very importantly, Spence-Jones never made the vote, which made the case that more tenuous.
Codina was actually a hostile witness, saying he'd been misled by prosecutor Richard Scruggs to believe that Spence-Jones had misappropriated the charity money when she hadn't.
In a potential Lieberman case, the developer would be a cooperating witness, though we don't know the Chaits' purported version of events.
But here's the bottom line: Any case based on a contribution to a charity is going to be very difficult to get a prosecution. Why? Because the defense will be able to tell the jury that his or her client didn't get a dime and therefore didn't benefit. Who benefited? The community -- or in Lieberman's case, transplant recipients.
(Although there are serious questions about the Spence-Jones charity, which was essentially operated by Spence-Jones. It reminds me a lot of imprisoned Joe Eggelletion's old sham charity, GOLF.)
Yes, it's a form of corruption, but it's relatively abstract -- and without proof of a direct benefit, you're not going to have much luck getting convictions.
The hurdles for the prosecution in the Spence-Jones trial, though, went beyond just that. The judge, Rosa Rodriguez, effectively ruled that it is legal for politicians to solicit charitable contributions from developers and contractors on whom they vote so long as they don't personally and directly benefit from the contribution.
It's a terrible ruling, obviously. Selling your vote for any reason is against the law -- and Rosa Rodriguez should know that.
The Rosa Rodriquez ruling totally doomed the Spence-Jones case. And it's more evidence that when it comes to prosecuting public corruption, it's the judges who you have to worry about more than the juries. Remember, these judges are politicians too (another reason to appoint judges).
"We disagree with the judge's interpretation of the bribery law," Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Rundle said. "Bribery has become very sophisticated in our community. We believe that bribery done to influence a public official, even if done through a charity, is illegal. We will continue to investigate, prosecute, and enforce our bribery law."
But is the Spence-Jones case really a loss for Rundle or the people of Miami?
There will be no public backlash against Rundle -- except perhaps from Spence-Jones' backers -- for trying the case. The trial revealed dirty politics at play and forced Spence-Jones -- who still faces a separate and unrelated grand theft charge -- to answer for her actions in a court of law. It was a public service.
The only really negative outcome of the trial is that ruling by Rosa Rodriguez. Hopefully, it will wind up on the trash heap of history where it belongs.