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See No Evil

Will prosecutorial discretion protect the hustlers behind the JEA privatization scheme?

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Prosecutorial discretion is the authority of an agency or officer to decide what charges to bring and how to pursue a particular case. Prosecutors have a significant amount of leeway, and it is often exercised with bias. The process is subjective enough for us to ask, “Is justice blind in Jacksonville?” I’ve asked that question many times, often in these very pages. The answer has never been satisfactory. Crooked insiders such as Kerri Stewart and Tony Cugno remain unmolested by the justice system, despite allegations—sometimes confessions—of wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the courts threw the book at former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, former State Rep. Reggie Fullwood and former Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reginald Brown, who were also covered by local media with tabloid fervor.

Today is no different. Let’s review a few recent cases. In 2018, then-Kids Hope Alliance CEO Joe Peppers sent an email attempting to expose “undue influence” in Jacksonville City Hall’s micro-grant award process. Laura Lothman, a member of Melissa Nelson’s State Attorney Office, was one of the addressees. Nothing happened until The Florida Times-Union covered the story in vivid detail this year, when Peppers was sacked. But his allegations of possible unethical behavior did not, for some reason, initiate any legal action by Nelson’s Office. The State Attorney exercised prosecutorial discretion. (It is worth noting that Brian Hughes, who was implicated along with Sam Mousa in the influence scheme, was a paid campaign consultant for both Nelson and Mayor Lenny Curry.)

Now the possible sale of our JEA has stoked a bonfire of controversy, with some calling for a grand jury investigation. Echoing a very vocal majority of residents, Jake Godbold blasted Curry over the issue. The popular former mayor publicly took Curry to task for allegedly masterminding the JEA privatization scheme. According to Godbold, Curry cynically replaced JEA board members “with his hand-picked cronies” in order to grease the wheels. Indeed, the mayor’s former chief of staff, Kerri Stewart, who avoided scrutiny and possible prosecution despite numerous ethics complaints (again, prosecutorial discretion), is one such crony.

News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney said, “This is of such a magnitude and is so significant that this is the kind of thing you would see a federal grand jury investigation or U.S. Attorney’s Office or the State Attorney’s Office.” Pastor R.L. Gundy, who is part of the Jacksonville Leadership Coalition, has also publicly opposed the privatization of the utility company. Gundy told News4Jax he believes the FBI or a state or federal grand jury should investigate the circumstances surrounding the proposed JEA sale.

Now, finally, a voice from within the current city establishment is echoing public sentiment. This week, Jacksonville City Council member Matt Carlucci introduced a resolution calling for a grand jury investigation of possible conflicts of interest and ethics violations. The investigation that Carlucci envisions would be concluded before any attempt to sell to restructure the public utility.

Make no mistake. This is a test of judicial integrity. Thus far, justice has not been blind in Jacksonville. Prosecutorial discretion has tilted the scales of justice, protecting the privileged and condemning the rest of us. We’re watching to see if this time, for once, true accountability prevails.

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Gray is a very concerned citizen.

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