May 9, 2016

Judge Bertila Soto


175 NW 1st Street

Miami, FL 33128


Dear Judge Soto:

In the last two weeks, as part of a six part investigative series I have reported on a range of ethically questionable and/or illegal activities by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office aided by some judges of the 11th Circuit, and all designed to advance an illegal scheme that extorted money from misdemeanor criminal defendants as a condition for their successful completion of one of these pretrial diversion programs.

My series included details pointing to the involvement of some of the judges from the County Court Division of the 11th Circuit, the State Attorney and members of her staff, the Miami Foundation and two local companies –The Advocate Program and Court Options—who were involved in one way or another in this illegal scheme.

This scheme has existed since 2007, and I have concluded from records obtained from the Miami Foundation that more than $5 million was collected that was then distributed by the foundation to various community groups, including some with their own ties to the Miami Foundation, and the majority of whom were represented by boards of directors made up of politically powerful members of the community, who reciprocated their appreciation by giving the State Attorney various awards and other gifts.

The purpose of this letter is two-fold:  First, to alert you to the problems I have uncovered, and secondly, to ask you, as the Chief Judge of the 11th Circuit, what do you plan to do about these problems

In Part V of my series I cited a claim made by Court Options – one of the

companies involved – that these “donations” were legal because they had been “court ordered.”

I wrote to you seeking evidence of any such court order, and Linda Kelly Kearson, your General Counsel, responded by stating in a letter to me that:

“Also be advised that there is no “Administrative Order issued by

either the Chief Judge, or any judge in the 11th Circuit authorizing

the imposition of donations for the Denise Moon Memorial Fund

by either the Advocate Program or Court Options, as you requested”

While Ms. Kearson’s response put to bed the question of a published Court Order, I remained puzzled by the fact that the collection of over $5 million dollars by these two companies in the years between 2007 and today, could not have occurred without the knowledge of the judges involved, and especially Chief Administrative Judge Sam Slom, who had already been the Chief Administrative Judge for the County Courts for approximately two years when the instructions from the State Attorney’s Office to collect these donations was issued.

Judge Slom had featured prominently in Part II of my series because of a widely circulated letter in 2007. That letter openly accused him of not only being cozy with David McGriff, the Executive Director of the Advocate Program, because of their having been Pi Lambda Phi  fraternity brothers, but of being “very effective in protecting their“ {The Advocate Program’s} “contract status to date.”

That letter, circulated by political consultant Bob Levy – who has recently passed away – resulted in an Miami-Dade Ethics Commission case where Levy pled guilty to one count of “unregistered lobbying,” and a plea of “no contest” for his contact with Judge Beth Bloom, who had been a member of the selection committee dealing with a contract bid involving The Advocate Program.

In addition to these troubling allegations, it is no secret of the cozy relationship that exists between the Judge and the State Attorney’s Office – where he worked for a number of years, including being the State Attorney’s “Chief of the County Court for several years.” (Exhibit I – The Judge’s bio posted by the State Attorney’s Office, March 10, 2016)

While I was troubled by what appeared to me to be an obvious relationship between Judge Slom and the State Attorney’s Office over the way in which defendants were being assigned to these pretrial diversion programs without being informed of the required donation to the Denise Moon Memorial Fund - a practice which appeared to be ethically and morally questionable - I did not have any documented proof that would point to  knowledge by Judge Slom, or any of the judges involved, that ordering mandatory “donations” was inappropriate.

That changed this weekend when one of my readers wrote to provide me with copies of two opinions issued by the Committee On Standards Of Conduct Governing Judges, which in 1984 and in 1987. (Exhibits II & III)

Both of these opinions dealt with the imposition of “donations” by judges as part

of an imposed sentence.

The 1984 opinion contained the following observation:

“ Both Canon 2B and Canon 5B condemn the use by a judge

of the prestige of his office for the advancement of private

interests, although Canon 5B is more specifically directed toward

charitable private interests.  In this case, it is not the prestige alone

which is being used but the power of the judicial office in imposing

a charitable contribution requirement as part of a sentence, and

the infringement of the Canons is clear.”

The silence of County Court Judges in open court in  not mentioning the imposition of a “donation” as part of their spiel must be viewed as nothing more than an acknowledgment that someone high-up knew about this opinion, and made sure that the judges, purposely left out any reference of a mandated “donation,” when explaining what the costs associated with participation in the pretrial diversion program would be.

While that exclusion addressed the narrow letter of the 1984 opinion, it did not go far enough to exclude the judges from the larger provision of Canon 5B(2), as stated in the 1987 opinion to wit:

“A judge should not solicit funds for any educational, religious,

charitable, fraternal, or civic organization, or use or permit the

use of the prestige of his office for that purpose…”

So even though reference to a mandatory “donation” to the Denise Moon Memorial Fund were never uttered by any of the judges in a courtroom, the fact remains that not only were at least some judges – and most especially the Chief Judge Sam Slom – aware that this practice of mandated “donations” was going on, but that they also had to have been able to put two and two together and realize that the “prestige” of their offices were being used in the enforcement of the State Attorney’s directive to these companies to collect these “donations.”

That’s why Court Options on their website stated that these “donations” were “court ordered,,” when in fact they weren’t.

In short, I believe, and the circumstantial evidence clearly points to Judge Slom, and other judges, while sidestepping a direct reference to “donations” knew and allowed this illegal behavior to go on, “by lending the prestige of judicial office for the advancement of the private interests of others.”

These opinions from the Committee On Standards Of Conduct Governing Judges, all points to the indisputable fact that they must be considered as “imputed knowledge” by all of the judges involved, yourself included.

What is even more troubling is that during these years, the majority of defendants who appeared before the court did so without representation of counsel, because they were too poor to hire private counsel, and because the Public Defender’s Office was incapable of financing the appearance of Public Defenders to provide even the most minimal of representation for those individuals, even in the cases where a defendant faced jail time.  This has been shameful example of the failure of the 11th Circuit to provide adequate legal protection to citizens as required by, Gideon v, Wainright, 372 US 335 (1963).

My question to you is, now that you are fully aware that the collection of these “donations” was, and is illegal – the silence of the State Attorney to publicly refute my allegations, as well as the fact that there exists no statutory authority that she can cite as a justification for imposing these “donations” as a condition for the successful completion of these pretrial diversion programs by defendants – what do you plan do about this?  

The judges of the 11th Circuit cannot continue to play any part in a scheme that illegally extorts money from poor, unrepresented defendants as a condition for them to successfully complete a pretrial diversion program.

Furthermore, what do you intend to do with Judge Tom Peterson, after the revelation of his outlandish comments in the multiple copies of his emails that I included in Part III of my series?  I believe that as the Chief Judge you have a responsibility to report him to the Judicial Qualifications Committee, and ask that some sanctions be levied against him, including possibly having him removed as a Senior Judge for his published comments regarding the Sunshine Law and his lack of respect for the rights of the companies he sought to exclude from receiving due process.

Lastly, consider this letter as a public records request for any and all correspondence between yourself, your General Counsel or any other member of your staff and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, and any of her staff, as well as Judge Sam Slom  regarding any communications related to the Advocate Program, Court Options, the Denise Moon Memorial Fund and/or me and my series of stories for the period of time starting on February 1, 2016, to the receipt of this letter.

I will look forward to your response to the issues that I have raised, and the response to my public records request,

Yours truly,

Al Crespo

The Crespogram Report

Cc:     The Justices of the Florida Supreme Court

The Judges of the 3rd DCA

The Miami-Dade State Attorney

The Miami-Dade Public Defender

Judge Sam Slom’

Senior Judge Tom Peterson

President and Board of Governors of the Florida Bar

The Crespogram Report readers