Judge and Jury | Bob Norman | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Judge and Jury

Page 2 of 3

One example of a Wasserstrom dirty trick came when he wrote Goldman an e-mail titled "The Winning Argument," explaining how to get his fellow commissioners to vote for Schwing Bioset. Goldman then cut and pasted the argument onto an e-mail and sent it to Wasserstrom's fellow commissioners. To disguise the source, he put it under the name of his daughter, Jennifer Fox.

I'm not even going to get into how Wasserstrom and his co-conspirators — who included the commissioner's law partner Stacey Giulianti and his mother, Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti — tricked the city into believing they had an agreement to put the treated sludge on land owned by the Seminole Indians. They didn't.

The corruption was blatant and obvious, yet Lazarus, in his wisdom, determined after hearing the evidence that Wasserstrom should be "presumed innocent."

He may have been swayed by the specious arguments made to the jury by the defense. Wasserstrom attorney Milton Hirsch argued that because Wasserstrom never actually made any money, not "one shiny penny," as he said over and over, that his client wasn't guilty of receiving unlawful compensation.

The law, however, doesn't require that Wasserstrom receive any money, only that he solicit it, which he did via the contract with Goldman.

Much was also made by the defense (and parroted by the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald) about other irrelevant arguments. For instance, a former Hollywood bureaucrat, Windol Green, testified that other cities couldn't have piggy-backed on the Hollywood contract. While Green's assertion is dubious, it means nothing. The important thing was that Goldman and Wasserstrom believed that piggybacking was crucial to their efforts to make their money. Again, the intent is all that matters in the eyes of the law, and that was well-established.

Wasserstrom played an obvious shell game. Giving legal validity to the scheme basically amounts to legalizing corruption — so long as a politician claims that he was being paid by special interests for work he's done outside his respective governmental body.

As the Florida Supreme Court had guessed, Wasserstrom was not "so audacious as to explicitly verbalize his intent." But the necessary circumstantial evidence was there in spades. Were this case handled by federal authorities, Wasserstrom wouldn't have stood a chance.

The question that will never be answered is whether the jury would have convicted Wasserstrom on the second-degree felony charge (which is punishable by up to ten years in prison). My feeling, after attending the trial and paying close attention to the proceedings, is... maybe. The facts were on the prosecution's side, but you had to be there to understand the power of Wasserstrom's shameless charade, which was led by ringmaster Hirsch.

A short man with a beard and a pugnacious face, Hirsch quickly distinguished himself from prosecutor Tim Donnelly. On the first day of the trial alone, he quoted freely from Abraham Lincoln, Shakespeare, and Perry Mason. An example came when one of the potential jurors couldn't be heard: "There's a line in King Lear, 'Her voice was ever sweet and gentle and loving' — I need you to speak up."

She and the rest of the jury pool were soon eating out of his hand. Hirsch, who has published a novel titled The Shadow of Justice, showed the ability that all great hucksters must possess: the knack for engaging an audience. The shameless Hirsch stood in a courtroom, but you could as easily imagine him on the side of the road selling snake oil to a rapt crowd.

But you had to think that even the jury could see through the farce Hirsch was creating when he said in his opening statement that Wasserstrom was doing "God's work" for the sewage company. To bolster the obscene idea that the commissioner was on a mission from God, Wasserstrom wore a yarmulke on his head the entire trial. And to make sure the jury got a load of what a family man he is, the former commissioner yanked his kids out of school and made them attend the first day of trial.

"I'm bored," his young son said at one point. "I'd rather be in school."

Making sure the jury was also bored was the prosecution team of Donnelly and Catherine Maus, who both played like a wet blanket on the proceedings. The competition between Hirsch and Maus was reminiscent of Johnnie Cochran versus Marcia Clark. Style versus substance. Dry, dull, sometimes confusing substance.

In a quiet monotone, Maus' opening statement had no arc, no flourishes, no meaning. It was just a collection of names and meetings and facts, as if she'd memorized one of her own reports. She and Donnelly seemed to have a cloud over their heads, as if they were trapped in invisible, slowly hardening amber.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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

Latest Stories