Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Judges Investigation
Two of Miami-Dade's top criminal prosecutors are now investigating the behavior of Broward County judges. In part, their investigation is based on a Seven News exclusive. Carmel Cafiero is on the Case.
WSVN -- Carmel Cafiero: "Hi, Judge Zack. Carmel Cafiero from Channel 7."
Last June judge Robert Zack had not returned telephone calls for days, so we had to catch up with him in a parking lot.
At issue, a $2500 loan from attorney Chris Roberts who said he felt pressured and had not been paid back for more than a year.
Chris Roberts: "I would have expected to be paid back long ago, yes."
Judge Robert Zack: "What about it?"
Carmel Cafiero: "Do you think that's appropriate for you to borrow money from a lawyer who practices in front of you?"
Judge Robert Zack: "I don't think that I have any comment regarding that right now."
Carmel Cafiero: "Well, Judge, here, here's the canceled check with your signature on it. Is that appropriate?"
Judge Robert Zack: "Ma'am, I have no comment."
The next day, the loan was paid back.
Chris Roberts: "I felt taken advantage of, but ..."
But Chris Roberts had more to say, this time about controversial judge Larry Seidlin.
A sobbing Seidlin made national news for his handling of the Anna Nicole Smith case. Broward's New Times reported Seidlin had pressured Chris Roberts to buy him a shirt and an expensive purse for his wife, and the paper reported Seidlin had befriended a wealthy 81-year-old neighbor at his condo who gave the judge's family property and financial benefits.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney's office has been assigned the cases by the governor's office.
Katherine Fernandez-Rundle: "These guys know what they're looking for."
Katherine Fernandez-Rundle says they are being handled by the top prosecutors in her public corruption unit. Chief Joseph Centorino and Deputy Howard Rosen. It will be up to them to determine if any laws have been broken.
Joseph Centorino: "If there are other issues, such as judicial ethics, those are issues that would be referred to the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Our jurisdiction really in this area has to do with criminal issues."
And what the judges did and did not report on their financial disclosure forms is part of the criminal investigation.
Judges are required to declare their net worth and list assets and liabilities every year. As we first reported back in June, Zack did not list the loan from Roberts.
After our story, he did file an amended form that shows the loan and the repayment.
Howard Rosen: "During the course of our investigation we learn that there are other folks who gave gifts or made loans to judges. We are going to want to speak to those people also."
Judge Seidlin has since retired.
Judge Zack continues to preside over county court cases. With both men, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's office says it is important for the public to know if any wrong has been done.
Katherine Fernandez-Rundle: "If they believe otherwise, if they believe there are people who can skirt the law, break the law, scoff at the law, then they lose complete confidence in the law."
Meanwhile, Chris Roberts continues to practice law in Broward County.
Michael Catalano: "Well, Chris has gotten a little bit of static but nothing he can't handle."
His attorney says Roberts plans to stay in town and does not regret his decision to speak out.
Michael Catalano: "I think he just feels he was tired of people taking advantage of him."
Carmel Cafiero: "The next development in this drama is expected to be a subpoena to Chris Roberts who will tell his stories this time under oath."
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