public defender vs citizens crime group

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

public defender vs citizens crime group:

public's right to speak in court questioned

Miami-Dade County Public Defender Carlos Martinez has tripled down on his opposition to members of the Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness Group who testify in Bond Court to keep repeat criminal offenders in jail longer. The group is an ad hoc Facebook effort in response to concerns about crime on Miami Beach in general and, specifically, about repeat offenders that gather in Lummus Park on Ocean Drive that they say are harassing residents and tourists and posing a danger to the public overall.
 
Yesterday, Martinez circulated a motion with the Eleventh Circuit Court objecting to the “unlicensed practice of law and lack of standing”. It appears to be a generic motion that can be used for any defendant coming into Bond Court. While it names group co-founder John Deutzman, it includes any member of the “Miami Beach Crime Stoppers” group, though that is not how the group identifies nor is it a formal organization.
 
The Public Defender’s objections have escalated from a statement made by an assistant public defender in October, to two formal objections by the APD on Monday and Tuesday, to the motion circulated yesterday which indicates Deutzman’s actions are “a third degree felony”.

The motion states: “Based on his behavior in past cases, [Deutzman] advocates for increased monetary bonds with explicit intent that bond be set so high that indigent defendants cannot afford to post bond, thereby depriving them of liberty."
 
It goes on to argue that individuals have the “absolute right to a reasonable bail until a court adjudges that person guilty". The motion reiterates a statement earlier this week by Martinez that by appearing in Court, Deutzman has “performed acts commonly understood to be the practice of law” and that his “actions are not just a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct … but also a third degree felony.” Martinez’ motion states that “Mr. Deutzman and other ‘community members’ have only the right to attend courtroom proceedings … The right to attend such proceedings does not include standing to participate in them, however.” The generic motion ends with “Wherefore, the Defendant hereby objects to this Court allowing the unlicensed practice of law or granting Mr. Deutzman or other community members standing to speak in this case.”
 
Deutzman and other Miami Beach residents started showing up in Bond Court after their research indicated that a number of the people that congregate in Lummus Park had been arrested more than 100 times, some for serious offenses like assault and robbery. They objected to cases being pled out there instead of going through the process to a status hearing and trial. Anecdotally, they report some successes on their Facebook page, with a number of the repeat offenders receiving sentences of 30 to 60 days and some being issued “stay away” orders.
 
Those “wins” are what has gotten the attention of the Public Defender’s Office, which is charged with representing defendants who attest they cannot afford their own legal representation. Carlos Martinez is the elected Public Defender for Miami-Dade County. There are nearly 200 assistant public defenders who work under him, handling 75,000 cases each year, according to the Office’s website.
 
Deutzman argues the caseload is so high that the assistant public defenders and State attorneys assigned to the cases do not have time to dig deeper into a defendant’s criminal history to ensure the community’s public safety interests are taken into account. He says he and other residents are focusing their efforts on those offenders with a high number of arrests in a twelve-month period and on the severity of crimes. His goal is increased jail time for repeat criminals as provided by Florida law in an effort to stem the tide of crime in the Ocean Drive area. Right now, he says, without consequences, there is an endless cycle of criminal activity by the same individuals.
 
Until this week, Deutzman says he had a good working relationship with assistant public defender Renee Gordon. What changed is the Public Defender’s stance, which went from simply asking a judge to not allow testimony by non witnesses or victims to a stronger statement earlier this week, which Deutzman took offense to, writing to the Facebook group:
 
“Today the assistant public defender Ms. Renee Gordon, read a litany of rules that I am breaking by testifying in Bond Court against our repeat offenders. Most important was the charge of ‘practicing law without a license’ which is a felony. Judge Hubbart let me testify against Dwayne Bunyon regarding his latest arrest for trespassing in violation of a stay away order and standard Bond was set. So far every Judge allowed my testimony. This could become a major battle and we will need help in this fight. Below is Miami Dade Public Defender, Carlos Martinez, an elected official [referring to a photo], who’s [sic] office is accusing me and our group of committing a crime. Until today, Ms. Gordon and myself had a good relationship which [sic] each respecting our roles.”
 
Before filing his motion, Martinez would not comment other than to issue a statement through a spokeswoman:
 
“Neither a lawyer or a non-lawyer can be advocating for increased monetary bonds with the explicit intent that bond be set so high that the indigent defendant cannot afford to post bond. Such use of monetary bonds is unconstitutional.  The purpose of bail is not to punish the defendant nor to detain him in custody prior to the disposition of the case.
 
A non-lawyer may or may not know the unconstitutionality of the positions he advocates because is not a member of The Florida Bar.  That problem is one reason why the unlicensed practice of law is illegal. Making an appearance in court and advocating for a ruling in a case are part of the practice of law.
 
We will continue to object to any non-lawyer, who is neither a witness nor a party, to advocate for the unconstitutional use of bail.”
 
Deutzman says Miami Beach has a good record of showing compassion for indigent individuals. “$1.5m in services for homeless, five cops, free ambulance service for homeless,” he says reciting a list of City services. “We’re already doing the compassionate part.” What he wants now is to add a layer of protection for the community.
 
He says he works well with the State Attorney’s Office and he’s more comfortable with the status hearing and trial phase of the judicial system. In that “second phase,” he says, “We’re kind of covered with our concept of repeat offenders” with regular judges who have seen the offenders before and more time to prepare on the part of the State's attorney.
 
He calls the Bond Court phase, “our weak phase” and, yet, he says, it is the most important, the “first line of defense”. If cases are pled out there with minimal time served, they never make it to the second phase. With Bond Court, appointed senior judges rotate in and out and the job is not always viewed as desirable. “I personally think that’s the most important job,” Deutzman says. “You see them first. I just wish we had one [judge] that would be in there” assigned on a regular basis to Bond Court. And that’s why he shows up, to ensure the knowledge of a defendant’s criminal history and that his or her impact on the safety and wellbeing of the community is considered.
 
One of the initiatives the crime group supported was the hiring of a municipal prosecutor by the City of Miami Beach to take on the City’s municipal violations (the less serious crimes) to lift some of the burden from the State Attorney’s Office and to ensure a greater focus on keeping repeat offenders off the streets. It is a system that is already in place in a number of neighboring counties according to Miami Beach Chief Deputy City Attorney, Aleks Boksner.
 
The City’s municipal prosecutor was hired with the start of the new fiscal year that began on October 1. Boksner says he is hoping to get the new prosecutor into Court by January. Right now, he is working to get the cases moved over to the City. The bureaucracy is like a big ship, he says, and turning isn’t easy.
 
“It’s an effort to modify the business practices that have been so ingrained down here that no one has had the wherewithal to look at it from a different perspective,” Boksner says. Because of the multiple agencies involved, “It does take a bit of effort” to make change.
 
Even so, he adds, “There’s nothing that legally prohibits us from commencing the municipal prosecutions. We’re trying to get all the stakeholders on board and to recognize that this is the way the elected officials in the City of Miami Beach have elected to approach this issue.”
 
“It’s a big ship,” Boksner says. “Changing its course is not an easy endeavor because no one is familiar with where that course will lead them and, because of that, it creates a level of uncomfortableness.”
 
For Miami Beach, he says, innovation comes naturally. “As a City, Miami Beach always grasps these new concepts, these new ideas. This is nothing unusual to us, but for most of the people they have one thing they do every day … When you insert something like this, ‘Wait a second, I don’t know if we can do this’ is the typical response.” Boksner says Miami Beach is “approach[ing] this as a benefit to all parties involved” allowing the State Attorney’s Office to prosecute serious State law violations with the City taking on the misdemeanor cases on a local level. “To me it’s a common sense concept,” he says.
 
With regard to the Public Defender’s stance on public testimony, Boksner says, “Certainly a citizen can appear and provide whatever information that the Court deems appropriate and necessary for an appropriate legal bond … [the public defender] may make certain representations, but it will be the judicial office making the decision who can assess what is an appropriate bond for the circumstances.”
 
Deutzman says, so far, his testimony as a resident has been allowed. “These judges have all listened to this spiel by the public defender and have let us speak … their issue is with the judge, not me, once the judge lets me talk.”
 
With the number of bond hearings that happen daily, Boksner says one municipal prosecutor won’t be able to handle all of them. As Deutzman prioritizes, that may be what the prosecutor will need to do. Boksner says “The outright goal is the City of Miami Beach has the appropriate level of prosecution over our own violations to ensure we don’t have all of these repeat offenders who are essentially victimizing our tourists and residents.”
 
Regarding the crime prevention group’s efforts, he says, “As citizens they are being actively engaged in ensuring that their community is safe and making sure that all of the individuals throughout government – whether State Attorney’s Office, Circuit Court or the County Court – that these individuals do not have a revolving door and that is the ultimate goal. Certainly certain individuals should be prosecuted. It is the goal of the City Commission that those egregious defendants have the appropriate sentence for their criminal conduct.”
 
The citizens crime group has also reached out to work with the Police Department as part of its collaborative effort in achieving that goal. “We always appreciate working with the community to address and prevent crime,” says Captain Ian Robinson, Miami Beach Entertainment District. “We have worked closely with the Facebook group in recent weeks, and appreciate their advocacy and partnership. Ultimately, we are working toward the same goal – a safer Miami Beach.”
 
It won’t happen overnight. Boksner says, “The reality of it is, will we see results within the first year? I think we will but something as large an undertaking of this is going to take a bit of time.”
 
Everyone, though, seems to think the effort is worth it. 
 
“This is an international destination,” Boksner says. “You’re talking about what is not the biggest of offenses but, to the City of Miami Beach, the most important of offenses because it goes to the ability to protect our visitors and residents as well. The City of Miami Beach is a brand and to allow this to evolve to something uncontrollable is going to benefit no one.”
 
Despite the Public Defender’s efforts to silence him, Deutzman says, “We’ll keeping showing up.”
 
As to the Bond Court judges, he notes, “Most are not elected. They are senior retired judges with different philosophies. That's why I wish it was just one person."

Public Defender Martinez who was unopposed in his election for a third term last year is up for re-election in 2020.
 

Photo: Miami Beach police officer makes arrest on Ocean Drive.
Courtesy Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness group

Miami Beach Crime Prevention Group Making an Impact


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
effort  succeeding in taking repeat offenders off the city's streets