Paying the Race Card | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Paying the Race Card

Norman Ganz didn't wait for an introduction before launching into an exasperated monologue on the phone. All he knew was that a news reporter was on the other end of the line.

"I am not a bad person! I work for a living and I help people. I don't steal from people. They pay because there is discrimination. I'm sorry, but I'm having a very, very difficult time."

This didn't sound like a lawyer who had just hours before won a $1.3 million settlement in a discrimination lawsuit against Broward County Clerk of Courts Robert E. Lockwood.

Ganz had his reasons to sound desperate. He was under investigation for exploitative tactics -- read: blackmail -- to get cash settlements and was getting bashed by the media. His chief paralegal, Brian Nieman, was exposed as a felon, with insurance fraud convictions under his belt.

But if Ganz was bruised, his opponent, Lockwood, was broken. As a result of the settlement, the political career of the 76-year-old Democrat was all but ruined.

And Ganz is still stomping through the federal courts, kicking up mud.
Next to be stepped on? The Broward County Sheriff's Office (BSO).
Ganz is looking for another big settlement in his racial discrimination suit against BSO. A seven-figure cash payoff isn't likely, however, as the sheriff's office isn't nearly as vulnerable as the clerk of courts, and the number of alleged victims, 3, is roughly a tenth of the 29 complaining against Lockwood.

While the question of how much water the lawsuit holds is difficult to answer, the BSO case definitely isn't lacking in dirt. It opens a window to brutality in the jail, spousal abuse charges among BSO employees, and petty infighting among deputies. And it has raised serious ethical questions about Charles Whitelock, the sheriff's outgoing chief counsel.

One plaintiff is Gary McClinton, who was fired in 1994 after he was charged by Pompano Beach police with domestic violence against his wife. McClinton was never convicted (his wife changed her story), but some unexplained bruises remained a mystery. McClinton contends he was fired rather than ordered to counseling because he is black. Ganz's complaint names two white deputies, Brad Turner and Andrew Pentecost, who were also charged with domestic violence but not fired.

There's problem with that declaration, however: Turner and Pentecost were, in fact, both fired for domestic violence. "We're not perfect," Ganz explains.

While McClinton claims that racism is rampant among deputies, another plaintiff, Kenneth Phillips, said he never saw any outright racism in his three years as a corrections deputy. But he wonders if racism played a role in his 1994 termination. Phillips, who had a sparkling record as a deputy, was fired after an incident in which a handcuffed inmate was beaten. Phillips didn't hit the inmate. In fact, he asked another guard not to hit him.

What got Phillips into trouble is that investigators didn't believe him when he said he didn't see his sergeant, Frank Willard, take the inmate into a closet for an "attitude adjustment." Willard, who is white, was fired for the incident, along with two other deputies, one white, the other black. Phillips was given a ten-day suspension without pay for his alleged untruths. He wouldn't accept that punishment and was fired.

Even BSO has conceded that Phillips didn't deserve the firing: He was offered his job back but didn't accept it because they refused to pay his lost wages.

Phillips said he was recruited to participate in the discrimination lawsuit by Rena Coleman, the third plaintiff in the case. Coleman joined the force in 1985 and quickly rose to the rank of sergeant. She was demoted to deputy in 1991 after a particularly ugly incident in the jail.

Teenage inmates became disorderly. Deputies shackled them, pulled down their pants, and beat them. The deputies, who have since been fired, were also accused of forcing one of the teens to wear a urine-soaked shirt and of passing gas in another's face.

Coleman didn't participate in the beatings -- in fact, she testified in court against the deputies, who were criminally charged. She was demoted, like Phillips, because her version of events wasn't believed. In her efforts to regain her rank, she heard that Charles Whitelock, who was then not affiliated with the sheriff's office, was a good lawyer and went to him for help.

"I told him everything, and he told me what I done was right," she said. "He told me the sheriff's office was crooked, and they didn't like it when people did the right thing. He took my case. I paid him between $300 and $500."

When Whitelock's friend, Ron Cochran, won the sheriff's seat in 1992 and made Whitelock his chief counsel, Whitelock sent Coleman a letter, telling her he could no longer represent her case because it would be a conflict of interest. He added that he didn't want to "hamper any successful outcome" on Coleman's claim.