If you haven't read Judge Ana Gardiner's transcript, you should. It says more about Broward County corruption than anything I could ever write. And it's clear that Gardiner has lied under oath and should be investigated and ultimately criminally charged for doing so.
The Florida Supreme Court ordered an investigation into Gardiner after I exposed the fact that she'd gone out on the town with the prosecutor in a death penalty case over which she was presiding. Not only did Gardiner and then-prosecutor Howard Scheinberg party together during the Omar Loureiro murder trial, but they talked about the case, specifically about gruesome photos of the nearly decapitated victim that Gardiner allowed into evidence against the protestation of the defense. Gardiner and Scheinberg laughed in the presence of a group of people about the fact that a juror fainted at the sight of them and had to be carried out of the trial, say two witnesses, one of them Sunrise Commissioner Sheila Alu.
This kind of behavior is an outrageous assault on the fair trial principle and is, as one of Loureiro's defense lawyers put it, "in utter contravention of the rule of law and our judicial system."
Well, State Attorney Michael Satz obviously felt the same way. Via Bruce Rogow, he vacated Loureiro's conviction, based on "the appearance of impropriety arising from undisclosed and ongoing conversations between [Gardiner and Scheinberg] during the trial proceedings."
This is profound and historic in Broward County. Satz usually refuses to bend, nonetheless break, on convictions. This is a guy whose office denied DNA testing to death row inmate Frank Lee Smith when he was alive. Only after Smith died a horrible death at Starke prison were the tests done that vindicated Smith and proved he didn't rape and murder a little girl.
Gardiner and Scheinberg both say the same thing (and, no, not coincidentally -- they've been talking up a storm together): They happened to meet on Las Olas at Timpano on the night of March 23, 2007, but never discussed the case.
It was their word against Alu's, after all, or so they said. Another high-profile witness, Judge Charlie Kaplan, has since died, so his version of the story hasn't been told. But I have learned some explosive information concerning Kaplan's tragic end.
But a very reluctant witness was recently dragged in to testify, one Lucianna Calegari, an old friend of Alu's. Calegari, who works in a dentist's office, had refused to come forward because, like most people, she didn't want to be in the center of controversy involving some of the most powerful people in South Florida. She also testified that she didn't believe Loureiro deserved another trial. The rule of law and ideals about fairness aside, Calegari said she felt Loureiro got just what he deserved.
When Calegari was finally deposed, on April 30, she said that after Gardiner and Scheinberg arrived at Timpano and joined Alu, herself, and another friend at a table, they started talking about the murder case.
"What stuck about it was the pictures they were talking about," Calegari testified. "And allowing the pictures to be shown to the jury. And the reason it sticks to mind is because, you know, they described it as the guy was almost decapitated. So, you know, you tend to get a visual of that and it's like, 'I'm
out of here.' I don't to think of that kind of deal. So, yeah, they were talking about pictures, and the defense didn't want the judge to all them to be shown to the jury and she did. And then there were giggles about one of the jury fainting over it."
Calegari also testified that Gardiner and Scheinberg also talked about how Loureiro and his victim were both gay.
Calegari said she and Alu then went to the bar together and Alu, who was in law school at the time, was upset at what she'd just witnessed between the judge and prosecutor.
"She wouldn't shut up about it," Calegari said of Alu. "I told her, 'Listen, I watch television, I know it's not right.' You don't have to go to law school because she was all waving about it. She is a law student, 'You don't have no idea, blah, blah, blah.' I said I know it isn't right."
Calegari's deposition is dripping with straightforward, matter-of-fact truth. And Alu's story was obviously true from the beginning -- demonstrably so. The facts about the gruesome photographs and the juror fainting were never publicized. It was only after Alu reluctantly came forward to me last year that I scoured the court file on the case and found that there had indeed been an argument over showing the photographs and that a juror had fainted at the sight of them.
Alu had no other way of knowing those facts unless it came from Gardiner and Scheinberg -- and both of them have sworn they didn't do so.
The third witness should now be deposed and it would cinch it.
Let's look at Gardiner's testimony. She lies throughout. For instance, Alu has sworn that Gardiner told her before she came to Timpano that she was with somebody she wasn't supposed to be with. Calegari and Alu say they came in together. Gardiner swore that Scheinberg just happened, by sheer coincidence, to walk in "almost like immediately" after she arrived.
Gardiner, in her deposition, says they all sat down together and talked but denied any conversation about Loureiro.
"There was no conversation about the Loureiro case or any aspect or anything about the case at all," she said.
Gardiner then goes on the attack, saying that Alu was "intoxicated." Then she contradicts herself when Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout asks her some pointed questions.
GARDINER: I think that [Alu's] behavior, look like she wasn't that steady in terms -- it looked like she had drinks.
HAUGHOUT: Okay, did anybody say you shouldn't drive?
GARDINER: No. No.
HAUGHWOUT: I mean she didn't look like she was so intoxicated?
GARDINER: No, no, no, no.
Scheinberg rode with Alu to the Blue Martini. Gardiner and Kaplan get there first and wait.
Now Alu told me what happened in the car. She said that she told him she couldn't believe that they had talked about the case and that she thought it was wrong. Scheinberg told her that if she felt she should report him to the Florida Bar that she should do so.
Whatever it was that was said in the car shook Scheinberg to the core.
"Howard came in and he was totally looking very very upset," Gardiner said in the deposition. "Just that the face had changed. ... He rolled his sleeves up and he went directly to Charley and told Charlie he needed to speak to him."
Gardiner testified that they wouldn't tell her what had happened.
"Charlie and Howard come back my way and Charlie came to me and said that Howard was very upset, something had happened and that he wanted to leave," Gardiner said. "He didn't want to stay and I tried to find out. 'Charlie, what do you mean he doesn't want to stay? What happened? What happened?' He wouldn't tell me. He wasn't going to say.
"Howard at some point face to face said to me that something had happened in the car with Sheila. Whether she had said -- I don't remember exactly whether she had said something, but it had really upset him."
That night at about 2 a.m. Gardiner received two calls from Scheinberg's cell phone. She said Scheinberg was sleeping at Kaplan's house and he told her that he was upset. Yet he still wouldn't tell her what had happened.
This was apparently the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Gardiner and Scheinberg. They spoke numerous times over the next week -- while the jury was deliberating, after it had reached its guilty verdict, and before Gardiner sentenced Loureiro to death.
"From that moment on, you know," Gardiner testifed of March 23, 2007, "we have been friends."
And, as it turns out, both Gardiner and Scheinberg have the same story. Apparently Alu had once previously told Scheinberg's then-wife, now ex, that she thought Michael Satz was soft on corruption. Scheinberg then told Satz, who called Alu to ask her about it.
This is what Scheinberg and Alu are resting their denials on: That people will believe Alu was so upset by that phone call that she decided to lie and claim they'd talked about the trial in an attempt to destroy both of them.
Preposterous, absolutely preposterous. It's clear they are both not only lying about not talking about the case that night but that they cooked up their stories together over long telephone conversations (and whatever other social interaction their friendship involved).
This one is right in front of our faces. A judge has lied under oath to try to save her reputation, as has a former prominent homicide prosecutor. And if they'll lie about this, what else have they lied about? What else will they lie about?
This is definitely a case where the cover-up is worse than the crime. I always felt that Gardiner should be punished for her improper actions, but I didn't believe it necessarily warranted her removal from the bench.
This deposition, however, leads me to believe she should not only lose her judgeship but that she should be criminally charged (perjury and obstruction of justice are two possible counts that come to mind). If Broward judges will lie under oath, then nobody is really safe in this county. That's why Ana Gardiner must be brought to justice.
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