[Updated] Crist's Crusade for Ethics: Act of Incompetence? Or Campaign Gimmick?
It didn't make much of a splash in yesterday's news cycle, so let's try this again: The Florida Supreme Court has denied Charlie Crist's request for a special grand jury to investigate corruption in South Florida.
From the get-go, it seemed like a bizarre request for Crist to make, especially since federal agents and prosecutors are already investigating corruption in South Florida. How many cooks do we need in that kitchen?
Crist's sudden interest in ethics looked to me like a campaign maneuver, a symbolic gesture that would come in handy any time a question was raised about what the governor's doing about corruption.
But after discussing this with a source who's much better versed in state politics, I'll entertain another possibility: that Crist is a crappy lawyer who surrounded himself with other crappy lawyers.
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Remember: Crist is this state's former attorney general. It's astonishing that someone with that kind of background would sign a legal petition that is so casually rejected by the high court, which ruled that it "doesn't meet the minimal allegations required (by state law)." The state law of which Crist has been the guardian.
If Crist and his legal team isn't embarrassed by this, they should be.
Maybe they had some political reason for sending the original petition before it had been properly vetted. In any case, Crist has filed an amended petition, which you can read at this link from the South Florida Biz Journal.
But you still run into the same problems of redundancy. The petition's upshot is: We should investigate whatever the federal agents are investigating. The petition suggests the grand jury could identify places in which the state law is insufficient when it comes to combatting corruption, but we don't need no stinkin' grand jury for that. We can simply bring legislation ensuring that state attorneys have the same legal weapons as federal prosecutors, who have been able to make cases in both Broward and Palm Beach counties where local prosecutors could not.
Or did not. I realize that there's a distinct possibility that some local prosecutors are too friendly with potential investigative targets in the political community to want to build a case. But if those local prosecutors get the federal corruption tool kit, then they have even less of an excuse to not go after crooked officials.
The source I talked to pointed out that if Crist were serious about this -- and smart -- he would ask his attorney general to form a corruption unit that collaborates with federal agents to get a handle on what measures could have prevented the spectacular explosion of corruption here in South Florida. That would be a lot quicker than going the grand jury route. So would unleashing the inspector general to look for corruption with state agencies.
But that just brings us back to my original concern, of whether Crist wanted to make a symbolic effort or whether he actually wants to root out corruption in the state. If it's the former, then Crist's campaign would want that grand jury to take its time, during which he could take credit for having them on the job. If it's the latter, well, Crist had better be careful. The Rothstein case sprang out of a Pandora's box a few weeks after Crist's original request for the grand jury. And given Crist's close ties with Rothstein, the aspiring senator may find that a corruption investigation leads to his front door.
UPDATE: So now Crist will get his grand jury. Again, embarrassing to whiff on the first try. Still questionable how effective the grand jury will be.
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