Who knew that the squalls left over from Hurricane Trayvon were heading north? During George Zimmerman's trial, Florida State Attorney Angela Corey allegedly — no, counselor, I didn't forget — neglected to turn over to defense lawyers a prosecution report on some myth-destroying photos found on Trayvon's cell (Trayvon apparently smoking pot, someone holding a handgun, video of two homeless men fighting). Constitution-wise, that's a no-no.
Ben Kruidbos, the info-dweeb who wrote the report, ratted out his boss' withholding of evidence, under oath and in front of TV cameras. He was duly canned, frog-marched out of the Fourth Judicial Circuit and deposited on the pavement.
Corey is herself familiar with this hallowed ritual, having been fired by her predecessor, Harry Shorstein, for being abusive and unprofessional toward interns. So too is her No. 2, Cheryl Peek, who in 1990 was accused of dismissing a grand jury panel and then immediately seating another in order to get an indictment. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that this wasn't jury tampering, but her boss, then-State Attorney Ed Austin, decided it was outrageous and dismissed her.
Kruidbos is now suing Corey et al. for $5 million. Thus it was that on Dec. 18, at 11 a.m. sharp, assorted attorneys and I assembled in the chambers of Judge Lawrence Haddock.
The electricity was palpable. Would Trayvon Nation storm the Palace of Justice? Would Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton parachute into the atrium? Would 10,000 whackazoid bloggers from Planet Zim leap to their keyboards and hack the secrets of all and sundry? We waited for a circus. We waited for chaos. We waited for the judge — 10 minutes, 20, 45.
"Omigod," I thought. "He knows this one's hot."
At last, after nearly an hour, His Honor emerged and, through steepled fingers, informed us that there was a conflict. He was a longtime friend of the Corey family and the recipient each year of a plate of stuffed grape leaves made by the state attorney's father. Therefore he was recusing himself. In less than a minute — poof — he was gone.
That impressed me. How often do you see a judge get himself off the political and legal hook with a plate of dolmades? The Zimmerman trial ruined legal and law enforcement careers from Sanford to Miami (two police chiefs fired, one state attorney humiliated and retired, two senior police officers busted back to rousting drunks on patrol). The judge definitely knows the Golden Rule of Government Service: When presented with a political hot potato, pass it on to someone who can take the heat.
Mos' deft, Your Honor.
So, will Jacksonville's two top prosecutors take a clue from the judge? Or will they ruin their careers, as have so many others, in the attempt to prosecute George Zimmerman?
Here's some unsolicited advice. Don't get tough over an ex-employee lawsuit and get hammered. All things Trayvon and Zimmerman are radioactive! You'd have a better chance nibbling plutonium on a cracker than getting through that minefield unscathed.
Please, please, do not pull a Paula Deen! Just think if, after Paula got sued by her ex-employee, she'd only duked the plaintiff a few hundred thou — chump change — she'd still be on the tube showing us how to batter-fry cream cheese in butter.
So pay off this mope. Half a mil, whatever. It's the taxpayers' money, for crying out loud. Non-disclosure agreement? Of course! A stipulation for Kruidbos to live for 10 years in Tierra del Fuego without phone or Internet? It's only fair.
It's only smart. The Florida Ethics Commission complaint over withholding evidence won't stay bottled up forever. Besides, the Zimmerman bloggers are onto you, and they can dig dirt, and spread it, faster than a mole.
The next time you see a Trayvon/Zimmerman-type case rolling down the pike, take a tip from the judge. Run like hell and don't stop until you cross the Georgia line. Otherwise you might join the other losers,
In Crime City.