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Journalism Denied?

Strange developments at the blog for the Justice Advocacy Association of Broward. Apparently the group of defense attorneys asked the Daily Business Review for permission to post a 1996 profile on Chief Judge Dale Ross. The newspaper obliged -- and then suddenly rescinded, forcing the blog to take down the article.

Written by Dan Christensen, who is now with the Miami Herald, the profile isn't real flattering to Ross, whose obsession with weightlifting, political connections, penchant for running things by "fiat and fear," and felony arrest at the age of 21 are highlighted.

Bill Gelin, founding member of JAAB, wonders if politics might be coming into play, especially with DBR's designation as the court house "paper of record." He writes:

"The DBR called me and told me permission was withdrawn, but would not tell me why or whether any influence had been exerted or displeasure expressed from the powers that be regarding the posting of this fascinating profile of Judge Ross. Let's hope it's just a coincidence that permission to run an article that shows Judge Ross to be more than a little human has been withdrawn, particularly in light of Administrative Order I-88-A-2 designating the DBR (then called the Daily Review) as the record newspaper for Courthouse publications."

I don't know, but I'll try to get to the bottom of it. (I'm hearing there was no influence exerted, that it was just a DBR management decision). As a public service, the entire text of the Christensen article is available for perusal after the jump.

[ADDENDUM: Boy does DBR not like the Christensen article. As I commented below, DBR has asked me to remove the article. Under the law, I suppose I have to comply, at least somewhat. So I've only excerpted the article below]. [ADDENDUM II: What follows now, to adhere to the good law of the land, is a "critical analysis" of Christensen's Jan. 5, 1996 piece, with excerpts.] [ADDENDUM III: DBR is actually starting to piss me off. Their lawyers are still complaining, which is making my bosses nervous. So now I have to shear it down some more. Never have I seen a publication more frightened of its own work being shown. It's pathetic]. [ADDENDUM IV: I asked Harris Meyer, the Daily Business Review Law Editor and New Times alum, what the hell was going on with this story. He sent me this e-mail: "No influence was exerted [to take the article down from the JAAB blog]. The original decision to give free reprint rights was made by marketing. The decision to rescind the approval came solely from publisher Chris Mobley, with no contact from Ross or the court. I personally agreed with Mobley's decision. I thought the article, which was 10 years old, was full of cheap shots."]


Christensen leads his profile with a bit on Ross and his weightlifting habit, which I find interesting:

TRY to get to know Dale Ross and there's a book he'll tell you to read. It's titled "Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder." Ross, Broward's chief judge and powerlifting devotee, won't talk about which passages in "Muscle" best describe him. He's not into public self-analysis.

"As far as lifting psychology, my reasons are personal reasons to me," says Ross, whose weekday regimen includes twice-a-day workouts at the downtown Fort Lauderdale YMCA. "If I was to explain, I'm not sure I could properly express them, and even if I did, some guy in Plantation with a 46-inch waist couldn't possibly understand."

The author then writes of Ross's attempt to hit citizens with crappy fees and how he really, really irritates some people:

What distinguishes Ross is less what he has done as a chief judge than how he has done it. Ross himself admits to an "ability to irritate," but to his detractors Ross is more than merely an annoyance. They describe him as petty and vindictive; an autocrat who rules through fiat and fear. He is blatantly political, they say, currying favor with rewards for supporters and forestalling opposition with punishment for foes, while making it his business to ingratiate himself with the politically influential.

"He's the Richard Nixon of the judiciary," says Frederick A. Goldstein, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who embarrassed the chief judge earlier this year by winning the court ruling that Ross had overstepped his authority by imposing a $25 fee to reset hearings and trials in traffic court. "He's a chief judge who sometimes does things without authority."

Then Ross quotes from an Animals classic to further irritate the populace:

Ross, elected to his third two-year term as first among equals in February, says that dark side to his reputation is undeserved. "What's that song? 'I'm just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh, Lord, why must I be misunderstood?"' Ross says, paraphrasing rock singer Eric Burdon.

Then Christensen asks an all-important question, namely, -Ever juiced, your honor?-:

Asked whether he has used steroids for an edge when he pumps iron -- a near universal among occurrence weight lifters, according to "Muscle" -- Ross says, "How about I say, I never inhaled."

Could we have a short man's complex on our hands?

Childhood friend M. Austin Forman, a politically influential businessman and supporter, recalls Ross as a "rambunctious" practical joker whose only clear focus at Fort Lauderdale High School was on lifting weights. "I think he wanted to build himself up. He was kind of a small guy," Forman says of Ross, who is 5 foot 8.

Once the chief judge broke into a bar and tried to steal a keg, which I think shows that the man has some spunk:

The rambunctious side his friend Forman recalls once ended up on a police blotter. In April 1969, during Spring Break, Ross was arrested by Fort Lauderdale police after he and a buddy slugged a bartender who caught them heisting a keg of beer from a cooler at the old She Lounge in the Marlin Beach Hotel.

Ross, then 21, told police the caper was "a lark" and refused to identify his pal. To this day, Ross won't name the man, saying he doesn't like snitches.

Police charged Ross with the felony of breaking and entering a business, and misdemeanor counts of assault and battery and resisting arrest without force. Records show the felony B&E was later reduced to petty larceny.

That's all. It's a few lines out of a long story. Somebody tell the guys at DBR's legal department to get a drink and relax. It's just a story, after all.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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