backpage editorial

Is Justice Blind in Jacksonville?

Prosecutors and media tip the scale for the privileged

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If justice is blind in Jacksonville, why is the media always highlighting U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, State Representative Reggie Fullwood, Councilmembers Katrina Brown and Reginald Brown? Lady Justice wears a blindfold representing objectivity, with no concern for favor, regardless of money, fame, power or identity and impartiality. However, it is prosecutorial discretion that has cast African-American elected officials deep into the web of the justice system.

The clearest example of prosecutorial discretion occurred when a whistleblower made a complaint through the Jacksonville Aviation Authority ethics hotline on Dec. 5, 2015. This complaint “alleged that Mr. [Tony] Cugno received currency from a former JAA Board Member Ernie Isaac to bypass the screening and reporting while traveling to Las Vegas an about four occasions during 2015,” as recorded in Jacksonville Office of Inspector General Correspondence Number: 2016–12–0003. This is a violation of CFR 1544.201.

On April 27, 2018, News4Jax reported that in the course of local and federal investigations, Cugno admitted wrongdoing, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute. And, while Isaac was replaced as a board member shortly after Mayor Lenny Curry took office in 2015, Cugno is still COO. Among his responsibilities is security.

Kerri Stewart, Curry’s former chief of staff, was conveniently moved to JEA last year with a salary increase. The move didn’t make headlines. Nor has anyone pointed out that Stewart also escaped the web of the justice system, despite the fact that a council audit report discovered Stewart improperly lobbying for $98,000 (which grew to more than $900,000 over a few years). Yet, for some strange reason, Stewart’s actions were never the subject of an Inspector General investigation or legal prosecution. Congresswoman Brown, State Representative Reggie Fullwood, Councilmembers Katrina Brown and Reginald Brown were not so lucky. Justice should be inclusive and equitable when comparing past and future actions.

More than a decade ago, a black city official named William Sweet defrauded taxpayers to the tune of $95,000. He’s currently serving 10 years of probation. Impartiality was the central issue in Sweet’s case, and it speaks volumes about “white-collar crime” in Jacksonville. During the time Sweet’s trial was going on, the media was covering case after case involving riverfront scandals. Why is it that folks who look like Kerri Stewart and Tony Cugno continuously escape the web of the justice system? Why is it that taxpayers always absorb the cost of shady and questionable business practices without real accountability? How do the culprits escape the bright glare of media coverage?

The dollar amounts involved in these questionable business practices classify some as whales in the sea of white-collar crime, and they simply swim away rather than face criminal prosecution. William Sweet was a minnow compared to Stewart and Cugno. Crime is crime, but it appears that Lady Justice sometimes moves her blindfold to take a look at who is committing crimes in Jacksonville. The judge in Sweet’s case must have been aware of these legal disparities, because Sweet’s sentence was probation instead of jail.

Justice is not blind in Jacksonville; prosecutorial discretion is the key factor that tilts the scales of justice toward some and ignores others.

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Dr. Gray is a very concerned citizen.

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