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In 2012 the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, after receiving increasing pressure to move beyond the Memorandum of Understanding Agreements that they had with The Advocate Program and Court Options to provide misdemeanor pretrial diversion services, decided to put out a Request For Proposals (RFP) for companies to bid on providing her office with Regular Misdemeanor Crimes Diversion, DUI Criminal Misdemeanor (The Back On Track Program), and Miscellaneous Criminal Traffic Misdemeanor Crimes Services.


To accomplish this goal, the State Attorney’s Office, like the 11th Judicial Circuit, turned to Miami-Dade County’s Procurement Department to facilitate the issuing and management of an RFP to solicit bids from companies interested in providing these misdemeanor diversion services.


The RFP that was issued included a determination that the total value of the contract to the winning bidders would be $30 million dollars, and that the contract could be split up between as many as 3 winning bidders over the 3 year period of the contract. The $30 million dollars would come from the fees that the “clients” paid during the 6 to 12 months they were in one of these programs.


As expected, both The Advocate Program and Court Options submitted bids, along with 4 other companies.


Within days of these companies submitting their bid proposals, a donnybrook broke out involving allegations that the Cone Of Silence had been breached, and following that, that a Sunshine Law violation had occurred when the Selection Committee met in secret prior to their first meeting to review the bid proposals.


Much of this in controversy in one way or another was prompted by Senior Circuit Court Judge Tom Peterson, who wasted little time after he was appointed to the Selection Committee to write a letter calling into question the procedures established by the Procurement Department that allowed for more than one company to receive a portion of the contract, and also challenging the right of Court Options to be considered as a bidder because they were a for-profit company.

This tag team effort by Peterson and McGriff to influence and persuade the Selection Committee to go with a single service provider should have been one of the first issues to raise concerns,  but it didn’t.


There are a number of troubling questions raised by Peterson’s initial letter including, why, given all of the individuals who could have been chosen to be a part of the Selection Committee, would the State Attorney’s Office specifically have choose him to be on this committee?  


His letters and emails illustrated a ham-handed effort to bully the staff of the Procurement Department, and although most of that effort failed, those people were clearly put under immense pressure, especially pressure to keep him on the committee in spite of his obvious out of bounds behavior.


Here’s just one example of several emails that he wrote about Pearl Bethel, then the Procurement Department’s Contract Manager, that under different circumstances would have resulted in the writer of such an email being asked to resign from the committee if he was so unhappy.


The Procurement Department - even though no one will say this publicly -took a lot of unnecessary crap from Peterson that they wouldn’t have taken from a lot of other people.

The judge was not in a position to assume anything when it came to what the companies involved would, or would not want to do regarding a reopening of the process, and for a judge with so many years on the bench to denigrate the requirement that the Selection Committee had to hold a new meeting to correct the Sunshine Law violation - a decision reached by the County Attorney’s Office and The Miami-Dade Ethics Commission - by labeling it “an absurd remedy,” not only reflects a complete lack of knowledge of the Sunshine Law but also an arrogant petulance that accompanies the corrupt self-importance that so many people have come to abhor about public officials who believe they are above the law.


Even worse was the fact that Peterson, after arguing that it was acceptable to deprive the companies involved of their rights because they were unaware that a violation had occurred, would then argue that to do what was legally right and necessary to correct that violation would be unfair to the Selection Committee members because they would be “asked to spend our valuable time reopening this closed chapter,” goes beyond the pale.


His time was no more valuable than anyone else’s, if for no other reason because he like all of the other public employees who made up the Selection Committee were on the taxpayer’s payroll.


Fortunately, Peterson’s letter was ignored, a new meeting to correct the Sunshine Law violation was held; he did participate, and the result of that meeting was that The Advocate Program and Court Options, the two companies who all along had been expected to get the contract, did.


NOTE: Before we leave Peterson’s participation in this sorry bid process, I want to reveal that he sent me several emails after he read in my original cover letter that he would be part of this series, and asked me to include one of those emails as part of this story.  You can read his email HERE.


THE PROTEST THAT FOLLOWED THE VOTE


On December 2, 2013, Miami Dade Community Service Inc. (MDCS), one of the companies whose bid was rejected notified the Clerk of The County Commission that they were filing a protest, and followed up on December 5th with a formal letter detailing their reasons. (The letter can be read HERE.)


Like the May 16th letter written by the attorney for Court Options, the attorney for MDCS also focused on the bias and misbehavior of Tom Peterson as the first reason for filing their protest, and then went on to cite the Sunshine Law violation and what they believed were less than sufficient efforts by the committee to correct the violation by essentially holding a second meeting that rubber stamped the actions taken at the first, illegal meeting.


The county, in an obvious effort to show their displeasure with the filing of this protest, set a hearing date of December 23rd, which as Crespogram readers will recognize from some of my previous stories dealing with the setting of public meetings so close to a major holiday like Christmas is intended not only limit participation and attention by the news media and the public, but also to create difficulties for participants, who like other folks have often made plans which have to be cancelled in order to attend.


Also showing displeasure with the decision by MDCS to file a protest was the The Advocate Program, who notified MCCS by email on December 4th, that their relationship - MDCS was at the time providing treatment services as a sub-contractor - was being terminated immediately.

On January 8, 2014, Marc Anthony Douthit, the Hearing Officer issued his findings on the December 23rd protest hearing, and to no one’s surprise ruled against MDCS. You can read his report HERE.


The most important thing to come out of this hearing was not a rehash of the arguments regarding Judge Peterson’s behavior, or even the allegations involving the failure of the Selection Committee to do more than conduct a perfunctory hearing to correct their Sunshine Law violation, but rather the refusal of the hearing officer to allow the introduction of an affidavit by a senior member of the State Attorney’s Office.

This affidavit was briefly referenced in Part II of this series, dealing with Chief Administrative Judge Sam Slom’s previous knowledge of problems related to The Advocate Program’s record keeping.


Here is the complete affidavit.

What’s important about this affidavit, besides the fact that it is exceedingly rare for someone inside the SAO willing to come forward publicly with this kind of information, is that it revealed that The Advocate Program and Court Options had both been on the radar screen within the State Attorney’s Office for some time as a result of their poor management practices, and that in spite of that knowledge - knowledge which as the affidavit points out was “easily available” to the members of the Selection Committee -  Assistant State Attorney Don Horn and Joseph Mansfield, both members of the Selection Committee, and both prominently mentioned in the affidavit as being privy to this information, still found it possible to give these two program’s their top score.

Don Horn and Joseph Mansfield were not only mentioned prominently in the above affidavit, but their names appear in many of the thousands of emails and documents that I reviewed in researching this series, meaning that were directly involved in dealing with these programs - often on a daily basis - and they were considered the go-to guys whenever a problem popped up.


In off-the record conservations with several individuals knowledgable about the inner-workings of the State Attorney’s Office, Horn and  Mansfield were each accused of being partisans when it came to looking out for the interests of one or the other of these programs, and you can pretty much figure out which individual was in whose camp by looking at their evaluation scores.


Regardless of any protestations that anyone cares to make that the process that resulted in The Advocate Program and Court Options receiving the rights to this $30 million dollar contract was open and fair, the end result, including how this contract was finally awarded to 2 and not the possible 3 companies that could have received a portion of this contract supports a claim that the solicitation for bids were little more than window dressing for a predetermined agreement made even before the first meeting to review the various companies proposals was held.


I believe that this bid was as rigged as a roulette wheel in a bust-out gambling joint.


THIS IS THE END OF PART III

As recounted in Part I of this series, Peterson in a 2009 biography identified himself a a “Co-Founder” of The Advocate Program, a company that he had helped found, and for which he obviously continued to show a strong sense of support. 


Peterson’s objections to the inclusion of Court Options however, also represented more than an expression of his personal opinion. His letter reflected what appeared to be a concerted effort by him and The Advocate Program to try and knock Court Options out of the box by challenging the decision that allowed for more than one contract provider to be selected. 


This claim is supported by a portion of the bid proposal that David McGriff, the Executive Director of The Advocate Program submitted a month before Peterson’s letter, that included the following the reasons and inducements for why he believed that the Selection Committee should chose his company as the sole provider.

SENIOR CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE TOM PETERSON WAS SO BRAZEN IN HIS EFFORTS TO PROMOTE THE CAUSE OF THE ADVOCATE PROGRAM AS A MEMBER OF THE CONTRACT SELECTION COMMITTEE THAT HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN REQUIRED TO REGISTER AS THEIR LOBBYIST

PART III

(C) COPYRIGHTED 2016

This in turn raises a question of whether this was all an act of premeditated collusion between the State Attorney’s Office, the Advocate Program and Judge Peterson? This after all was a 3 year, $30 million dollar contract, and not only was this the first time these services were actually put out for a bid, but there were real companies with real qualifications that showed up to bid.


Because there is no love lost between The Advocate Program and Court Options - a fact that’s not hard to discover in talking with individuals  who’ve either worked for these companies, or others who’ve watched them go at it from the sidelines - that perhaps Fernandez-Rundle and  those on her staff who were supporters of The Advocate Program saw this as an opportunity to take them out of contention, because the most telling argument that supports the claim that Peterson came with an agenda specifically focused on trying to knock Court Options out of the box - and it was an argument that was recognized by Court Options’ own attorney - was that in all of the letters and emails that he wrote, Peterson never once mentioned or challenged the right of other 4 companies who had submitted bids to be there, even though ALL of them, like Court Options, were also for-profit companies.


His focus, from beginning to end, besides doing whatever he could to support The Advocate Program, was all about Court Options.


TOM CONTINUES NOT PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS


Peterson’s April 20th letter and his subsequent vote set in motion a series of email exchanges and meetings that eventually resulted in Court Options protesting his behavior and calling into question the integrity and fairness of the selection process.


The first objection was raised in a strongly worded letter written on May 16th, by Agusto Maxwell of Akerman Senterfitt, the attorney representing Court Options, who after spending 6 pages tearing Peterson and the selection process a new one, ended by using the finest legalese that money can buy to conclude: (The complete letter can be read HERE.)


        “We respectfully submit that while Judge Peterson may be

        a terrific public policy advocate, his conduct as a member

        of this Procurement’s Selection Committee is profoundly

        inconsistent with the various provisions of the Code of

        Miami-Dade County Code and Florida law that seek to

        assure that public procurements are based on transparent,

        unbiased consideration of the published criteria?”


Even this letter, which should have served as a wake up call to Peterson that his behavior was out-of-bounds - Agusto Maxwell is a highly respected attorney, with a serious resume - didn’t seem to phase him.


As questionable as all of his previous letters and emails had been, absolutely nothing compared with the email that Peterson wrote on June 22nd, after he and the other members of the Selection Committee were notified that because of the Sunshine Law violation, the committee would be required to hold another meeting to select the final candidates for the contract.


This letter represents one of the worst examples of a Judge/Officer of the Court demonstrating not only a complete disregard and lack of respect for the concept of, or obeying the law, but also revealed a shocking willingness to screw over the other companies who has submitted bids, by using their lack of knowledge of what was happening behind the scenes in an attempt to deny them of their rights.