Mayo: Why wasn't Wasserman-Rubin judge tossed?

The takeaway from Diana Wasserman-Rubin's misdemeanor plea deal: Crime pays, especially for politicians who abuse the public trust. Once again, Broward State Attorney Mike Satz comes up looking soft on political corruption. And just who is Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Spencer Eig, and why didn't Satz's prosecutors call for his recusal when Eig said he wouldn't sentence Wasserman-Rubin to jail/prison no matter what a jury decided?

Wasserman-Rubin, the former Broward County Commissioner, resolved her criminal case on Monday by pleading guilty to three misdemeanors.  The outcome has spurred some outrage because she might get to keep her $4,895-a-month state pension. Usually, only felony convictions result in forfeiture of pensions for public officials.

So even though Wasserman-Rubin's crimes directly related to her political position -- when she voted to approve park grants that directly benefited her grant-writer husband -- she gets off with a virtual slap on the wrist: 3 years probation, and a $3,000 fine. The fine is less than one month's pension check.

Geez, that ought to deter any politicians from doing anything similar in the future.

Look, this case is riddled with questions, from the lengthy delay in bringing these charges (the votes took place a decade ago, Wasserman-Rubin settled state ethics law violations in 2007 and Satz didn't bring criminal charges until 2010) to why an out-of-county judge had to be brought in (one who doesn't have to face Broward voters).

But foremost in my mind among the questions: Just how does a judge get away with flatly making such a prejudicial statement (no jail time, no matter what), and the prosecutors basically shrug.

"It's kind of unheard of," Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein told me Tuesday. "I talked to two other longtime lawyers around the state and they've never heard of it either. We could not think of any circumstance when a judge, before a case went to a jury, said, 'I'm not going to send your client to jail.'"

Finkelstein continued: "It's unusual. It's a prejudging of the case. He hasn't heard the case and he's already told you what he's going to do. That's the antithesis of what a judge is supposed to do.

"If it was the opposite, if a judge came in and told one of my clients, 'I'm going to give you the maximum jail time if you're found guilty,' I'd move in a heartbeat to have him recused from the case. And he would be removed from the case."

It's unclear why Satz's prosecutors didn't take issue with Eig's pronouncement, but they cited his statement as one reason why they agreed to the misdemeanor plea deal in a close-out memo released Monday. I left a message with Broward State Attorney's Office spokesman Ron Ishoy to get a reaction to Finkelstein's comments, and will post an update when I hear back.

 

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