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Will Gardiner Go to the Gutter?

Video: Alu decides to go on the record in the Gardiner ex parte communication case.

If the past is any indicator, Judge Ana Gardiner will likely get nasty in her defense of Judicial Qualification Commission charges that she was untruthful about her ex parte communication with a prosecutor during a murder trial.

The question: Just how low will Gardiner go to try to paint Sunrise Commissioner Sheila Alu -- who was the source in the story that initially revealed Gardiner's transgression -- in an unfavorable light?

Remember that the last refuge of the political scoundrel is the personal attack. We already saw some of those in the depositions of Gardiner and the prosecutor, Howard Scheinberg, who you may remember got a job with friend Scott Rothstein. Gardiner made deeply personal and unsubstantiated allegations against Alu while Scheinberg claimed that Alu had come forward against him because she wanted to get back at him for

some old pettiness involving Michael Satz, his boss at the time.

Scheinberg's story is nonsense. Let's get this straight: When Alu initially told me about the Gardiner-Scheinberg thing in 2007, she told me in strict confidentiality. She said that the incident bothered her greatly in part because she happened to be studying legal ethics at the time. People close to her advised her not to come forward with it. Naturally she feared for her career; she was graduating law school, and these were powerful people in the courthouse. 

Had I let it go, the story almost surely never would have been told. Knowing how important it was, I pushed for it and tried to persuade Alu to go on the record. It took months -- and a Gardiner car crash involving a man named "Howard" -- before Alu agreed to go public. The above video captures her phone message to me when she decided to take the plunge. I don't make a habit of keeping many phone messages, but this one I never erased. 

Notice how she doesn't even mention Scheinberg in the message. She rarely ever said anything about Scheinberg; he never was the focus because it's the judge in this situation who was most at fault.

One astonishing thing about Sheila Alu as politician and prosecutor is that she truly does seem to hate corruption. She worked with the FBI to try to clean up the town. She risked her career and reputation to come forward against Gardiner. She was always one of the people who saw Scott Rothstein, who hired her ex-husband Joe as a bodyguard, for the obvious crook that he was (Rothstein also hated Sheila Alu with a passion and at times plotted against her). In her own city, she has recently fought a development in the Everglades and helped stop an unpopular garbage dump from being built when she learned the proposed owner had business ties with one commissioner (Don Rosen) and a friendship with Mayor Roger Wishner.

Alu isn't part of any political cabal. She doesn't have financial ties to these issues. She's basically a lone wolf. She used to be close with Wishner, but when he began doing what she felt were dubious things, she would have none of it. Wishner's questionable wrangling to try to guarantee himself a fallback spot on the commission if he were to lose in his bid for mayor proved the tipping point. "Roger, every day I lose respect for you...," she said at the April 13 commission meeting. "You are not the person you were... I don't want to support you for mayor, and I will not support you for mayor."

Whatever you think of Alu, this is refreshing candor in the crony-filled world of politics from which the likes of Gardiner sprang. And it's this kind of call-it-as-she-sees-it quality that frightens and enrages some in the old guard. That's just not the way it's done in Broward County. So a kamikaze run at her in the JQC case makes all the sense in the world to those who want to shut her down. 

What's surprising is that Gardiner's rumored strategy will likely be carried out by the judge's attorney, David Bogenschutz, an attorney not known for playing dirty games.  

We'll see how it plays out, but you have to wonder if this has somehow become personal for Bogenschutz as well.

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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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