The Knuckleheads of the Day award
Today's winners are the Florida Bar Association and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle. They get the award for the following.
Miami-Dade prosecutors accused Fort Lauderdale lawyer Hilliard Moldof of tampering with a witness in a capital murder case. Instead of charging him with a crime, they asked the Florida Bar to yank his law license for six months.An attorney charged with witness tampering and he gets slapped on the wrist by the bar association. The local feckless prosecutor(Florida has its share of these. Take for instance Barry Krischer.) doesn't take a case to trial. What a mockery of the legal and justice systems this story is.
But a Bar grievance committee has decided not to suspend Moldof, finding him guilty only of ''minor misconduct.'' He will be admonished later this year.
Prosecutors say they're frustrated.
''Our confidence [in the Bar] appears to have been misplaced,'' said Ed Griffith, spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, which took over the case at the request of the governor.
Here's what happened:
Moldof was representing convicted killer Kevin Hoffman, who, along with Geoffrey Kennedy, tortured, robbed and murdered Fort Lauderdale warehouse manager Michael Sortal, 47, in 2001.
Kennedy was convicted first in January 2002 and sentenced to life in prison.
Kennedy flip-flopped about cooperating, but eventually told police Moldof offered him money to change earlier incriminating statements he'd made about Hoffman.
At one point, Kennedy planned to change his testimony and take full responsibility for the murder under oath, but called off a deposition on his lawyer's advice. Ultimately, his statements and DNA evidence led to A guilty plea by Hoffman, who eventually drew a 32-year prison sentence.
Meanwhile, Broward prosecutors had received information from Kennedy's mother that he was receiving money to lie to protect Hoffman, according to a police report.
In August 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush ordered Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle's office to investigate Moldof after Broward State Attorney Mike Satz declared a conflict.
The investigation dragged on until March 2006 when Moldof signed a deal in which he conceded that prosecutors could have charged him with a felony and admitted violating Bar rules by, among other things, covertly sending $100 to Kennedy when he was a potential witness against Hoffman.
Kennedy alleged the $100 was a down payment on a $20,000 bribe; Moldof denied it.
A police report says Moldof initially denied sending Kennedy the $100, but later admitted it. In an earlier sworn statement, Moldof indicated he gave the $100 after Kennedy asked for money to spend at the prison commissary. Prosecutors said the payment was made ''with the apparent intent to curry favor'' when Kennedy testified.
Prosecutors labeled their deal with Moldof a ''deferred'' prosecution, but explicitly declined to prosecute. They did not retain the right to prosecute if the recommended suspension of six to 12 months was rejected by the Bar.
Moldof was required to pay $25,000 in costs.
Bob Norman at The Daily Pulp sums this story up nicely.
The case involved the torture and murder of 47-year-old Michael Sortal, the brother of Sun-Sentinel reporter Nick Sortal. Michael Sortal's two killers, Kevin Hoffman and Geoffrey Kennedy, are both in prison, but evidence came to light that Moldof, Hoffman's attorney, paid Kennedy to change his story. The case was handed to Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Rundle's office.Agreed Bob, and that's why I make The Florida Bar Association and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle today's Knuckleheads of the Day.
Even though the evidence was there, Rundle's office decided not to prosecute. Instead, prosecutors deferred the case to the Florida Bar, which they say they hoped would suspend Moldof's license. The Bar, however, termed the payoff "minor misconduct" and chose not to take any action against the well-known defense attorney.
Both Rundle and the Bar deserve equal blame for this disgrace.
Rick at SOTP is also blogging on this news.
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