U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer to join Holland & Knight

Wifredo Ferrer
Wifredo Ferrer

Wifredo A. Ferrer, the outgoing U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, has accepted a position as head of the Global Compliance and Investigations team at the international law firm Holland & Knight.

The move, announced in a press release Wednesday, will put Ferrer in charge of corporate compliance and government investigations for the firm’s white-collar defense division.

Company officials said Ferrer, who with seven years as U.S. Attorney was the South Florida office’s longest-serving top prosecutor since the 1970s, will focus on both domestic and international clients.

“Over my many years in the South Florida community, I’ve been very impressed by the caliber and professionalism of Holland & Knight attorneys, many of whom I count as friends,” Ferrer aid in the news release. “The firm has an outstanding reputation in the profession and also embodies a culture that is deeply committed to giving back to the community. I look forward to contributing to its continued success.”

Ferrer will work at the firm’s Miami office, one of its 27 branches worldwide.

Former Statewide Prosecutor William Shepherd, who heads Holland & Knight’s West Palm Beach office, attributed Ferrer’s move in part to an opportunity to reunite with the head of the firm’s litigation section, John Hogan.

Ferrer previously worked with Hogan at the Department of Justice while Mr. Hogan was chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

“I think it’s great to have Willy as part of the the team,” Shepherd said, later adding: “He’s a real trial attorney, both from the county attorney’s office in Miami-Dade and as Assistant U.S. Attorney, so he brings new depth to an already strong national team.”

Ocean Ridge Vice mayor headed to trial on gun, resisting arrest charges

Former Ocean Ridge Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella will stand trial in April on felony charges stemming from an October incident where he allegedly fired a gun and scuffled with police officer after getting drunk with one of the department’s lieutenants.

Circuit Judge Charles Burton set an April 10 trial date for Lucibella, whose attorney, Marc Shiner, declined to waive his right to a speedy trial in a hearing early Tuesday.

Lucibella, who resigned from office last week, is facing charges of resisting arrest with violence, firing a weapon in residential or public property and using a firearm under the influence of alcohol. He was released from the Palm Beach County Jail in October after posting a $3,000 bond.

According to arrest reports, an Oct. 22 call around 9 p.m. brought police to the 5700 block of Old Ocean Boulevard, north of Woolbright Road, after reports of gunshots. Officers checking the area found Lucibella, 63, outside his home sitting on patio chairs alongside Ocean Ridge police Lt. Steven Wohlfiel, the report said.

Though the report describes both men as “obviously intoxicated,”  an officer said it was Lucibella who became “belligerent and cooperative,” poking an officer several times in his chest and winding up with a black eye by the time he was in custody.

Shiner has since said that the arresting officer in the case used excessive force, and that Lucibella’s injuries also included three broken ribs and a loss of consciousness after the arresting officer allegedly slammed him face first into the ground.

Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins said his office is conducting an internal investigation, but on Wohlfiel, not the arresting officer. Wohlfiel is one of two lieutenants in the department who report directly to the chief. He has been reassigned as the investigation continues.
Lucibella, 63, is the CEO and director of Accountable Care Options, a Boynton Beach-based group of physician-directed organizations.

UPDATE: Facebook was weapon in nasty PBC judicial race

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.”

A Palm Beach County judicial candidate is using Facebook to blast her opponent as unfit because he works as a criminal defense attorney.

In a Facebook page titled, The Truth About Gregg Lerman, a political committee operated by Dana Santino’s campaign consultant attacks Lerman “for trying to free Palm Beach County’s worst criminals!”

lermanfb2The 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.

 

PBC court race gets ugly – some say – in Donald Trump-like way

A Palm Beach County judicial candidate’s claim that her opponent’s legal chops are questionable because he represents “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals” has inflamed criminal defense attorneys and raised concerns that Donald Trump tactics are being used in a county court race.

Gregg Lerman
Gregg Lerman

Comments Dana Santino made in an email last week about her opponent, Gregg Lerman, raise questions about her understanding of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees that anyone charged with a crime has the right to have an attorney represent them, attorneys said.

In a statement on Sunday, the president of the Palm Beach Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers made it clear the group isn’t backing either candidate in the nonpartisan race.

Dana Santino
Dana Santino

“However, we do support the Constitution of the United States,” wrote Christine Geraghty, an assistant public defender.  “Every lawyer in Florida takes an oath to uphold the Constitution.  Anyone who believes that there is something wrong with a lawyer upholding the ethical duty we have to our clients, to the Constitution, and to the rules of the Florida Bar does not understand how the legal system is supposed to work.”

Santino, a Palm Beach Gardens probate and guardianship attorney who worked as an intern in both the public defender’s and state attorney’s offices while she was in law school, said she understands the system.

“I completely respect and I’m proud of our justice system and while every person is entitled to a defense, Mr. Lerman is not a public defender and chooses to represent individuals who commit heinous crimes,” she said in a statement.

Lerman, a criminal defense attorney, said Santino’s description of his clients indicates she doesn’t understand another important Constitutional concept: innocent until proven guilty.

Further, he said in most cases he is appointed by judges to represent poor people accused of murder. Court-appointed attorneys are needed when the public defender’s office is unable to do so either because it is already representing a co-defendant or its workload doesn’t allow it.

Without private attorneys willing to accept such cases, the system would collapse, said Val Rodriguez, a private attorney who handles both criminal and civil cases and is supporting Lerman. “He’s performing a public service,” he said.

He said he was “flabbergasted” by Santino’s comments. “It’s so elementary. That’s why it’s so shocking,” he said. “It’s the first thing you learn in law school – to treat all parties with respect. You don’t call people criminals, especially if you’re a judge.”

Santino and Lerman are vying for a seat on the county court bench where misdemeanor cases and civil matters where less than $15,000 is at stake are decided.

Rodriguez likened Santino’s comments to criticism Trump leveled at Hillary Clinton during last week’s debate. The GOP presidential candidate accused Clinton of getting a man accused of raping a 12-year-old off and then laughing at the victim.

Early in her career, Clinton was appointed to represent the man, who ultimately took a plea deal. But, fact-checkers at the Associated Press said there is no evidence Clinton laughed at the victim when interviewed about the case years later.

Rodriguez said Santino is trying to tar Lerman with the same ugly brush. “She’s riding the coattails of these crazy Trump supporters,” Rodriguez said of Santino.

Santino said she is simply underscoring the differences between herself and Lerman. “I have spent part of my career and much of my life helping and advocating for victims of rape, homicide and domestic violence,” she wrote. “Those are simply the facts.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Clinton worked as an assistant public defender. She didn’t. She was appointed to represent the man in the rape case.

 

Boca attorney asks PBC judge to declare Trump incompetent

Claiming he is worried about the future of the country, a longtime Boca Raton guardianship attorney has filed a petition in Palm Beach County Circuit Court asking a judge to declare Donald Trump mentally incapable of seeking the presidency.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

In the “petition to determine incapacity” filed last week, attorney James Herb claims the GOP presidential nominee exhibits signs of histrionic and narcissistic personality disorder – both recognized mental health ills listed in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” of the American Psychiatric Association.

Herb is asking judge to order an examination of Trump to determine if he is capable of holding any job. Herb isn’t asking Trump to be stripped of any rights that are often taken away from those who are deemed incapacitated, such as the right to vote, file lawsuits, drive or travel. Citing dozens of statements Trump has made over the last year, Herb claims the part-time Palm Beach resident has illustrated he is incompetent.

“This is for Mr. Trump’s benefit. He doesn’t have the mental capacity to seek this kind of employment” said Herb, insisting he is acting alone without any encouragement from Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, or any Democratic groups.

He said he is also acting to protect himself and others. “I’m scared sh–less for myself and everyone in Palm Beach County, the state, the United States and the world,” Herb said.

Florida law gives any “adult person” the right to question someone’s competency, said West Palm Beach guardianship attorney John Morrissey, who is not involved in Herb’s quest. A judge will appoint an attorney to represent Trump. The attorney will alert Trump that the petition has been filed against him.

Once Trump has been properly informed that his mental fitness is in question, a three-person examining committee – generally composed of a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a lay person – will meet with Trump to determine if Herb”s claims are justified. Trump, of course, can contest any claim that he is incompetent to hold a job much less become the leader of the free world.

However, Boca Raton guardianship attorney Edward Shipe said he doubted it would go that far. While acknowledging that case law isn’t clear-cut, he said the guardianship statute requires anyone filing such a petition to explain their relationship with the person they claim is incompetent – something Herb failed to do. He said that is a fatal flaw.

“It can’t just be, ‘I’m sitting here watching TV, I don’t like him and I’m going to have him declared incompetent. That doesn’t make sense,” he said.

If it was that easy, courts would be clogged with petitions, Shipe said. Trump supporters could file a similar petition against Clinton. Warring neighbors could use it for revenge.

While giving Herb an “A for a publicity stunt,” he predicted a judge will throw out the petition. Further, he said, Herb may regret going after Trump in such an unconventional manner.

Under the state’s guardianship laws, the target of a frivolous petition can demand that the person who filed it be forced to pay his attorneys fees and court costs. “I fear that Mr. Trump with his litigious history may make Mr. Herb’s life hell,” Shipe said.

 

Donald Trump unlikely to testify in person at next week’s trial in West Palm Beach

Donald Trump is not expected to appear in person in federal court in West Palm Beach next week to refute allegations that he improperly kept as much as $6 million in refundable deposits from members when he took over a country club in Jupiter four years ago.

Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida on March 8, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida in March. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

In court papers filed late Monday, both Trump’s attorneys and those representing members of the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter both said depositions taken of the GOP presidential candidate would be read to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, who will be deciding the case.

While a jury trial was planned, Marra last month approved a request from both sides that he alone decide the dispute that has raged since Trump bought the club on Donald Ross Road near Alternate A1A for $5 million from Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa.

While Marra rejected Trump’s request to throw out the lawsuit, attorneys representing the real-estate-tycoon-turned-reality-TV-star have asked the judge to reconsider that decision. In the alternative, Miami attorney Herman Joseph Russomanno III is asking Marra not to allow the case to proceed as a class-action lawsuit.

Members of the club claim that Trump breached contracts they had with the Ritz when he in 2012 took over the club that had been losing as much as $4.2 million a month under its prior owners.

Under Ritz-Carton’s rules, members could continue to pay dues and use the club even after announcing their intentions to resign. Once a new member signed up, however, their deposits, which ranged from $35,000 to $210,000, were to be refunded.

Once Trump took over, he wrote a letter, alerting those who announced their intentions to resign “you’re out.” Members say they were denied entry to the club. Trump attorneys said it was because they hadn’t paid their dues. Further, Trump attorneys said, members could get their deposits back once new members joined.

Eric Trump, who operates the club for his father, is also on the witness list for the trial that is to begin Monday. It is unclear whether he will testify in person or, like his father, will allow sworn statements he made in previous depositions to be used to explain his position.

The club was the site of a primary campaign event in March where Trump surrounded himself with various products that bear his name, such as Trump magazine, Trump Steaks and Trump water, to dispute allegations from GOP rivals that many of his products were failures. It is also where his then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was accused of manhandling an online news reporter. Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg declined to file charges.

 

Judge paves way for trial against Donald Trump over Jupiter golf club take-over

Donald Trump is likely to be forced to take a break in his campaign for president next month to appear in federal court in West Palm Beach to explain why he hasn’t returned an estimated $6 million to members of his country club off Donald Ross Road.

Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida on March 8, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida on March 8, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra this week paved the way for a trial to begin on August 15 by denying Trump’s request to throw out the lawsuit filed by those who were members of the club before the businessman-turned-TV-celebrity-turned-GOP-presidential-nominee bought it for $5 million in 2012.

In the 12-page ruling, Marra said there were “genuine questions of material fact regarding whether (Trump) breached the contract” with members of Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter by refusing to return their deposits, which ranged from $35,000 to $210,000. That means, he said, the lawsuit must be decided by a jury.

Members claim that Trump changed the rules once he bought the club from the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa, which had been losing as much as $4.2 million annually trying to keep it afloat. Under the previous rules, members could continue to pay their dues and use the club even after announcing their intentions to resign. Once a new member signed up, however, their hefty deposits were to be refunded.

Shortly after taking over the ailing club in a gated community off Donald Ross Road near Alternate A1A, Trump announced to those on the resignation list: “you’re out.”

In a December 2012 letter to club members, he wrote, the rules had to be changed to assure the club became the “ultra-prestigious club” he envisioned.

Therefore,  he explained, “if a person is on the resignation list, the membership does not want them to be an active member of the club — likewise as the owner of the club, I do not want them to utilize the club nor do I want their dues.

“In other words,” he continued, “we are committed to seeing Trump National Golf Club – Jupiter on the list of the best clubs in the world and if you choose to remain on the resignation list, you’re out.”

Shortly after, members said they were barred from using the club. Further, they claim, club officials have refused to return their deposits as they were required to do under their membership contracts with the Ritz.

At a hearing in March, Trump attorneys argued that the disgruntled members were denied entry because they hadn’t paid their dues. Further, they argued, Trump offered them attractive options to remain members.

If they agreed to give up their deposits, their annual dues would drop to $17,500 for three years and they would also get the use of 14 other Trump clubs around the country, including Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach. Those who didn’t “opt-in” would see their annual dues jump to $21,500 and they wouldn’t get the chance to use other Trump facilities, according to the letter.

The options, those who filed suit claimed, constituted a breach of contract because it changed the terms of the long-standing agreement they had when they joined the club.

But, Trump attorneys countered, the club didn’t refuse to refund the deposits. Under another plan, longtime members would get their deposits back once new members signed up. Those who filed suit simply wanted to jump to the front of a very long line, they argued.

Marra said there is a true difference of opinion regarding the new rules. The disagreement turns on various details, such as the definition of such terms as “recall of the membership,” he wrote. That, he said, will be up to a jury to decide.

Scott appoints Weiss, Rowe as circuit judges

tmpNSWfqS-mdly-photoGov. Rick Scott on Friday filled two openings on the Palm Beach County Circuit bench.

He appointed County Judge Daliah H. Weiss to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Circuit Judge John L. Phillips, and he appointed Cymonie S. Rowe to fill the open spot created by the resignation of Circuit Judge Amy Smith.

Weiss, 46, of Wellington, has been a county court judge since 2012. She was an assistant state attorney from 1996-2012. Weiss received her bachelor’s degree from Emory University and her law degree from the Villanova Law School.

Rowe, 47, of Boca Raton, has been a senior trial attorney for Liberty Mutual since 2007. She previously was an attorney with Green, Ackerman & Frost, P.A. Rowe received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and her law degree from Nova Southeastern University.

Supreme Court throws out Texas abortion law, impact in Florida expected

The U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-3 vote, on Monday threw out a Texas abortion law that opponents claimed was an end-run around the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to choose.

The United States Supreme Court. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The United States Supreme Court. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The decision is expected to have an impact on efforts in Florida to stop a restrictive abortion law from taking effect July 1. At a hearing Wednesday in Tallahassee, Planned Parenthood affiliates statewide will ask U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to issue an injunction, blocking the implementation of the measure that stripped funding from chapters throughout the state and, they claim, increased the state’s control over abortion.

Click here to read decision.

In today’s much-anticipated decision, the nation’s high court ruled that the Texas abortion law created an undue burden on women seeking to exercise their constitutional rights.

The measure required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and required clinics to meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers. Less than a dozen clinics, mostly in urban parts of the state, could meet the requirements, leaving tens of thousands of Texas women without access to reproductive health care, opponents said. Supporters claimed it was to keep women safe.

“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented.

In Breyer’s majority opinion, he noted that the law purported to cure an ill that didn’t exist. Quoting from a lower court decision, he wrote: “The great weight of evidence demonstrates that, before the act’s passage, abortion in Texas was extremely safe with particularly low rates of serious complications and virtually no deaths occurring on account of the procedure.”

Ginsburg, in a separate concurring opinion, underscored statements from the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that called abortion “one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States.”

To hinder access to it, as the Texas law sought to do in the guise of protecting women, would endanger women instead, she wrote. “When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in
desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux,  at great risk to their health and safety,” she wrote.

Denouncing the ruling, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, disagreed. “Abortion claims the lives of unborn children, and too often endangers their mothers, as well,” Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications for the Catholic bishops said in a statement. “This ruling contradicts the consensus among medical groups that such measures protect women’s lives.”

In a dissent, Thomas said the high court has once again rewritten the constitution to allow abortion clinics to thrive, unchecked. “I write separately to emphasize how today’s decision perpetuates the Court’s habit of applying different rules to different constitutional rights — especially the putative right to abortion,” he wrote.

West Palm Beach civil rights attorney Jim Green, who is representing Planned Parenthood in its battle to overturn Florida’s recently-passed abortion law, said the “undue burden” test that sunk the Texas law will play a key role in his arguments Wednesday to Hinkle.

“The question is, are these restrictions necessary, and the court held that they obviously weren’t,” he said. That decision could bolster his position that Florida’s law is yet another attack on women’s reproductive freedoms.

Florida’s law cut federal funding Planned Parenthood received through the state for non-abortion services, changed the definition of gestation and gave state workers the right to inspect at least 50 percent of medical records at abortion clinics. None of the provisions make women safer, Green said.

They simply create confusion, uncertainty and invade women’s privacy as part of efforts to make it more difficult for women to get abortions, he said.

In court papers, state officials disagreed. They claim Planned Parenthood has no constitutional right to government money. Further, they said, they always had the right to inspect patient records. The  definition of trimesters was changed to clarify, not obfuscate, they said.

Florida officials weren’t immediately available for comment on what effect, if any, the high court’s decision would have on the state’s case.

Check back for further updates.

 

Nouman Raja’s case assigned to Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer

060316+raja+first+appearance+04Nouman Raja’s attempted murder and manslaughter case in the Oct. 18 death of Corey Jones has been assigned to first-term felony circuit judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer.

According to court records, Raja – who was released from jail early Friday after prosecutors announced his arrest Wednesday – will be arraigned June 14 at the Palm Beach County Jail. But after that, Feuer will preside over all hearings in the case, including an eventual trial or plea.

Raja, 38,  was a Palm Beach Gardens Police officer working a plainclothes burglary detail when he shot Jones, a  31-year-old drummer whose car had broken down on Interstate 95 on his way home from a gig. He faces up to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter charge but up to life in prison if convicted on attempted first degree murder.

Corey Jones, who was shot on Oct. 11, 2014. (Post file photo)
Corey Jones, who was shot on Oct. 11, 2014. (Post file photo)

The case is easily the highest-profile matter Feuer has handled in her two years on the bench, although she has tried both a number of capital felony cases as well as cases against police officers accused of committing crimes on duty.

In September, less than a month before Jones’ death, Feuer presided over the trial of former Boynton Beach Police officer Stephen Maiorino, who a jury acquitted in the alleged 2014 rape of a 20-year-old woman while on duty.

Feuer was elected to a six year term in 2014, when she ran unopposed to replace Judge Sandra McSorley. Before taking the bench, she worked as a civil attorney and also as a civil prosecutor with Florida’s Attorney General.