Four Palm Beach County prosecutors, a local magistrate and a personal injury attorney are among the six lawyers that Florida Gov. Rick Scott will choose from to appoint a new county court judge.
The Judicial Nominating Commission for the 15th Circuit, which covers Palm Beach County, sent the following names to Gov. Scott last week as nominees to replace County Judge Daliah H. Weiss, who was appointed to the circuit bench earlier this year:
Mark A. Greenberg
Michael J. Rachel
Joseph “J.D.” Small
Maxine A.M. Williams
Collins, Rachel, Small and Willis are all Assistant State Attorneys in Palm Beach County. Williams is a magistrate, and Greenberg is a personal injury attorney in West Palm Beach.
Scott appointed Weiss in July to replace retiring circuit judge John Phillips.
A Palm Beach County jury on Thursday found accused serial rapist Baltazar Gabriel Delgado-Ros guilty of sexual battery with a deadly weapon and burglary in the 2009 rape of a suburban Lake Worth woman, charges that could send the 30-year-old former Lake Worth man to prison for two life terms.
The verdict, that brought tears of relief to his 35-year-old victim, came after roughly two hours of deliberation over two days following a two-day trial.
“I am so thankful to the jurors for seeing the truth in this case and helping me finally get justice,” the woman, who is not being identified due to the nature of the attack, said after the verdict. “After seven years we can finally start to heal and put this behind us.”
In a written statement she read to Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer, she said she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression and still suffers panic attacks. She asked the judge to give Delgado-Ros the maximum punishment when he is sentenced on Jan. 10.
“I don’t want him to ever have the chance to hurt another woman,” she said. “No one should have to go through what I did.”
However, four other woman from Jupiter to Lake Worth claim they too were raped by Delgado-Ros from 2009-2011 before he was arrested in his native Guatemala in 2014 and brought back here to stand trial. He is to be tried in February in connection with one of the other attacks.
His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Maurissa Jones, sought to persuade the jury that he did not break into the woman’s house near Palm Springs and rape her. Instead, she argued, he was friends with the woman’s then-husband, who was in jail at the time awaiting deportation, and the sex was consensual.
While allowing one attorney to get off the case, a Palm Beach County judge on Thursday refused to delay Dalia Dippolito’s Dec. 1 murder-for-hire trial to allow another lawyer to get up to speed about the seven-year-old case.
In a brief hearing, Judge Glenn Kelley granted Miami attorney Mark Eiglarsh’s request to withdraw as one of Dippolito’s attorneys. Eiglarsh cited irreconcilable differences, explaining that to say more could embarrass Dippolito.
Minutes later, Kelley denied attorney Greg Rosenfeld’s request to push Dippolito’s trial back to early next year. “This case has been pending for seven years. It’s been two years since it came back from the (appeals court),” Kelley said. He noted that Dippolito has chewed through “two or three sets of attorneys” yet California atttorney Brian Claypool has been her lead attorney since July 2015. There is no reason for a further delay, he said.
The 33-year-old Boynton Beach woman was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for hiring a hitman in 2009 to kill her new husband. The “hitman” turned out to be a Boynton Beach cop. She won a new trial in 2014 when the 4th District Court of Appeals ruled that jurors should have been interviewed individually about how much they knew about the case that became an internet sensation when her tearful – some say insincere – reaction to the false news of her husband’s death went viral. Dippolito, who was silent during the hearing, remains on house arrest.
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg is expected to take the stand Thursday to answer a lawsuit from a former prosecutor who claims she was fired shortly after Aronberg was elected because she had cancer.
Angela Miller, who was once the Palm Beach State Attorney’s office White Collar Crimes Unit chief, found out in December 2012 that Aronberg would not be keeping her on after Aronberg officially took office in January 2013. At the time, Miller was undergoing chemotherapy following a surgery for breast cancer.
Miller sued, claiming she was fired because Aronberg and others deemed her a liability due to her illness. Aronberg and other officials say Miller was merely not retained with the new administration – a prospect every Assistant State Attorney faces whenever a new top prosecutor takes office.
Testimony in the trial began last week and has already featured appearances by some of Miller’s former colleagues at the State Attorney’s Office, including former State Attorney Michael McAuliffe and two of his former chief assistants, Paul Zacks and Jill Richstone.
Miller took the stand Tuesday and remained there until Wednesday afternoon, breaking down in tears several times, including when describing how then interim State Attorney Peter Antonacci told her in December 2012 that she wouldn’t be retained under the new administration.
“I was fired because I have cancer,” Miller said later. “I was damaged goods. Who wants someone who is bald and has no eyelashes?”
At least one of Aronberg’s top assistants has testified that he didn’t know of Miller’s cancer diagnosis until after the decision had been made to let her go.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes, who was part of Aronberg’s transitional team before Aronberg officially took office in January, said he agreed with the decision not to keep Miller on staff after he learned in a November 2012 meeting that there was a claim that she had improperly used an FBI database to conduct a search for personal reasons. Fernandes described the incident as a serious violation that could have caused the entire office to lose access to the database.
Miller’s attorney, Cathleen Scott, questioned Fernandes about a note he made during what he said was a subsequent meeting. The note indicated that Miller had cancer, and the team did not want to keep her, but Fernandes told jurors the cancer notation had nothing to do with the decision not to retain her.
After Miller left the office, Aronberg dropped charges against the defendant in one of Miller’s last high-profile cases. Suncoast High School band director Ernest Brown once faced charges that he ran up debts on band accounts for school trips to Europe and used band money to take relatives on a trip.
A February 2013 memo from the state attorney’s office following the dropped charges was critical of prosecutors for pushing forward with a case they allegedly couldn’t prove and charging Brown with crimes for which the statute of limitations had passed.
A month later, prosecutors dropped fraud charges against Palm Beach jewelry store owner Vernon Lee Havens. This time, they alleged outright that Miller had committed prosecutorial misconduct.
On the witness stand, Miller said she believed that Brown’s case was dismissed in part because Brown’s attorney, Michael Salnick, and former state attorney and Aronberg transitional team member Barry Krisher were friends.
Havens’ case, she said, was a further attempt to besmirch her character, knowing she was planning to sue.
“I do believe that it was a way to take a shot at me in the paper and say: ‘look at her, look at how stupid she is,'” Miller said.
Later, another Chief Assistant State Attorney, Alan Johnson, testified that he, Krisher and others in the office met periodically for lunch gatherings that would inevitably turn into gripe sessions about the state of the office under McAuliffe, who had promoted Miller during his three years in office.
It was there, Johnson said, that another attorney began to complain about Zacks and Miller. Johnson said Aronberg later began attending those lunch sessions, and added that he told Aronberg of complaints bout Miller before he took office.
After McAuliffe left office early in 2012 and Antonacci was appointed as a temporary replacement, Miller said he constantly pestered her, calling and emailing her about cases while she was trying to recover from surgery and while undergoing chemotherapy.
“I told him that the people that I had left in place were more than capable of answering whatever questions he had, but he kept saying it was my unit, it was my unit,” Miller said. “He never gave me a break.”
Less than six weeks before her scheduled retrial on charges she tried to hire a hitman to kill her husband, a member of Dalia Dippolito’s legal team has just announced that he wants off the case.
In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Miami attorney Mark Eiglarsh announced that he filed a motion to withdraw from the 33-year-old former Boynton Beach newlywed’s case, which is now set for a Dec. 1 retrial.
Eiglarsh and California attorney Brian Claypool joined Dippolito’s legal team after several rounds of changes after an appellate court overturned her 2011 conviction and 20-year prison sentence in a plot caught on camera where Dippolito was recorded telling a man she thought was a hitman that she was “5,000 percent sure” that she wanted her then-husband Michael killed.
That “hitman” turned out to be an undercover Boynton Beach Police detective.
Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley is expected to hear Eiglarsh’s motion to withdraw from the case in a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
UPDATE: Federal prosecutors on Tuesday asked that the U.S. magistrate’s decision to allow Melgen to return home be put on hold until the matter is reviewed by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra. Magistrate James Hopkins granted the request which means Melgen will have to call off the moving vans.
After spending more than a year living in his daughter’s Palm Beach Gardens condo, Dr. Salomon Melgen is headed back to his sprawling house on the Intracoastal Waterway to await trial on charges that he defrauded Medicare out of as much as $105 million.
In an order signed this week, U.S. Magistrate James Hopkins said he is no longer concerned that living along the waterway increases the chances the ophthalmologist will flee to his native Dominican Republic. Further, Hopkins ruled that Melgen, who also faces corruption charges in New Jersey with his longtime friend U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, can leave his house near Juno Beach from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. without an escort. But, he said, he must continue to wear an ankle monitor.
In his order, Hopkins noted that Melgen would have gone to trial last month had federal prosecutors shared their witness list with the Melgen’s attorneys as they were required to do under court rules. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra in August reluctantly delayed the trial until next year saying the failure to share the information could have denied Melgen a fair trial.
Melgen and Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, were indicted in April 2015 on corruption charges. Prosecutors claim Melgen showered Menendez with campaign contributions, hotel stays, free trips and other gifts. In exchange, they claim, Menendez lobbied federal agencies to help Melgen in an ongoing dispute over his Medicare billing and other matters, including bringing girlfriends into the country.
Weeks after he was charged in New Jersey, Melgen was charged here with more than 70 health-care related fraud charges in connection with clinics he operated in West Palm Beach, Wellington, Delray Beach and Port St. Lucie. Prosecutors claim he falsely diagnosed and treated scores of elderly patients for macular degeneration. They claim he double-billed Medicare by using one vial of Lucentis, a drug used to treat the malady that causes blindness, to treat multiple patients.
Melgen denies the charges. Before his release from the Palm Beach County jail in July 2015, he was forced to pledge all of his family’s assets – then estimated at $18 million – to secure his release. Since he was ordered to leave his home as part of the original bond deal, Melgen has sold his boat and jet, his attorneys said.
Kimberly Lucas’ Jan. 26 trial date was set in a hearing before Circuit Judge Charles Burton on Monday, a day after Lucas turned 43 years old while behind bars at the Palm each County Jail.
She’s been there since May 2014, after the drowning death of 2-year-old Elliana Lucas-Jamason and attempted murder of Ethan Lucas-Jamason.
Lucas and Jacquelyn Jamason, the children’s biological mother, had been together for more than 20 years and joined together in a 2001 civil union, but were estranged at the time of the killing. Jamason has said that Lucas suffered from complications from gastric bypass surgery and had subsequently developed a prescription drug problem that contributed to their split.
Lucas first announced that she would be pursuing an insanity defense more than a year ago, after her family hired private defense attorneys Heidi Perlet and Marc Shiner. Now represented by the public defender’s office, her defense at next year’s trial will still be that she suffers from dissociative identity disorder and one of her alters killed Elliana.
UPDATE:The “Truth About Gregg Lerman” Facebook page was taken down Friday. Richard Giorgio, Dana Santino’s political consultant, said in an email, “Several defense attorneys who are supporting Dana Santino contacted the campaign. They felt the Facebook page “The Truth About Gregg Lerman” could be viewed as a commentary on all defense attorneys. In deference to them, the page has been taken down.”
The page, that offers links to newspaper stories about several high-profile cases Lerman has handled, underscores further how little Santino understands about the criminal justice system or what criminal defense attorneys do, Lerman said.
“A criminal defense attorney works to preserve the system and make sure it works,” said Lerman. He is challenging Santino in the Nov. 8 election for a seat on the county court bench, where misdemeanor cases and civil matters, worth less than $15,000, are decided.
A few newspaper stories don’t begin to tell the story of his 31-year career or the job of a criminal defense attorney, Lerman said. The job involves more than appearing in court. It often involves trying to get people help with demons, such as drug addiction, to keep them from committing crimes. It also involves protecting clients from overzealous prosecutors and making sure the punishment fits the crime.
He said he suspects Santino, who in an email to would-be supporters last week said Lerman represents “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals,” has stepped over a line. Unlike those seeking other elected positions, judicial candidates are constrained by judicial canons and can face sanctions for violating them.
Richard Giorgio, Santino’s political consultant, said Santino is on firm legal ground. “We’ve looked at the canons,” said Giorgio, who administers Taxpayers for Public Integrity which created the website for Santino.
“Candidates are allowed to draw clear, honest, factual differences with their opponents,” he said. “There’s nothing misleading. One candidate focused her career on defending victims and one focuses his on defending perpetrators of crime.”
Santino, who works as a guardianship and probate attorney, worked as a victim’s advocate from 1993-94, according to her campaign brochure. Giorgio said she still represents victims of crime.
Lerman said he does, too. He said he and those close to him have been victims of crime. He said he understands both sides. “It’s aggravating because she doesn’t know me or what I do,” he said.
Santino, he said, is violating judicial candidates by misrepresenting his credentials and questioning the validity of the type of law he practices. “You can’t attack someone personally based on what they do and infer they can’t be fair and impartial,” he said. “That’s exactly what they claim.”
He said he intends to seek an opinion from a campaign ethics committee of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and file a complaint against Santino with the Florida Bar.
Giorgio indicated he isn’t worried. “He doesn’t represent these people because he champions constitutional principles. He’s doing it because he make a lot of money doing it,” Giorgio said.
Lerman accepts court appointments to represent people charged with murder. Most agree it is far from lucrative.
But, he said, he does it because he respects the criminal justice system and takes his responsibilities as a lawyer seriously. “I raised my hand 31 years ago to uphold the Constitution of the state of Florida and the Constitution of the United States,” he said.
A Palm Beach County teen was sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday for shooting a 16-year-old to death in Riviera Beach after a fight sparked by a feud on Facebook.
The sentencing comes nearly a year after a jury convicted Samuel Turner of second-degree murder in the October 2014 shooting death of Ivan Redding.
The spat on social media was between Turner’s friend, Fiando Toussaint, and two of Redding’s sisters. It escalated when the sisters saw Turner and Toussaint near a convenience store on Old Dixie Highway and began calling them names. At the urging of his sisters, Redding challenged the two boys to a fight.
During the fight, Redding got the best of Turner, which made him angry, prosecutors told jurors. The sisters testified that it was Turner who reached into the car with a gun in his hand and shot Redding once in the chest at close range as the boy sat in the backseat.
Turner’s attorney Jennifer Marshall, asked Circuit Judge Charles Burton to sentence Turner to 20 years in prison.
The next hearing in the case is set for Feb. 21, but in the meantime there are plans to interview witnesses.
A judge on Wednesday set an ambitious timeline for the case of Nouman Raja, the former Palm Beach Gardens police officer accused of manslaughter and attempted murder in the shooting death fof 31-year-old stranded motorist Corey Jones.
Circuit Judge Samantha Schosbereg Feuer at a hearing Wednesday morning told attorneys in the case to come back for another hearing in February so they could hopefully put Raja’s case on track for a trial next summer.
But Chief Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes told Feuer that he has nearly 300 total expert witnesses on the state witness list so far and mus conduct dozens of interviews in the coming months.
Fernandes and defense attorney Richard Lubin told Feuer some of those witnesses live out of the area, so they will be traveling extensively through the rest of year to interview as many witnesses as they can.
The next hearing in the case has been set for Feb. 21.