by Walter Lagraves…….
One of the most important local races to be decided In the upcoming election is that of State Attorney.
The State Attorney is responsible for protecting you, the public, by vigorously ferreting out and prosecuting crime and corruption wherever it may be found in our community. You must decide which of the candidates is the most competent. The safety and integrity of our community rides on your decision.
Fortunately, in this race, we have the incumbent’s track record to examine.
The incumbent, Catherine Vogel, before moving to Monroe and becoming our elected State Attorney, was an assistant State Attorney in Miami-Dade. She had been assigned to be the lead prosecutor in the Griselda Blanco case. The case was of national importance. It involved a long list of particularly gruesome and violent drug related murders that Blanco had ordered. The case dated to the Cocaine Cowboys era and involved the leadership of one of the major cocaine cartels.
Ms. Vogel so terribly mismanaged her staff and that prosecution, that Governor Chiles ordered her and the Dade SAO removed from the case. The governor assigned the Orlando State Attorney to prosecute the case. The episode was a terrible embarrassment to her office and to her.
An investigative panel was even seated to winnow out the facts. That panel recommended that Ms. Vogel be suspended. Vogel left the Miami-Dade SAO shortly thereafter.
Then of course, there are a host of local cases and episodes during Vogel’s tenure that you should consider.
There is the embarrassing outcome of her investigation into the the theft of thousands of dollars from the School Board. The SAO investigated, suspects were identified, but no one was charged.
We must also wonder why the State Attorney has not investigated the allegations concerning the Lower Keys Medical Center. Our local hospital has morphed into one of the lowest rated yet most expensive for profit hospitals in our nation. Rumors of corruption are rampant. Ms. Vogel has been roundly criticized for not investigating or even offering the issue to a Grand Jury, the conscience of the community.
We can’t forget that it was Ms. Vogel who appointed Dr. Beaver as interim Medical Examiner, and the subsequent embarrassment that has resulted from that appointment. Aside from using his personal pickup truck (that he purchased with your tax dollars) to transport dead persons, during his first year on the job, Dr. Beaver paid himself $180,000 in salary, and spent another $26,000 on his personal rental apartment.
One measure of a State’s Attorney Office is the ratio of cases filed to cases disposed.
According to flcourts.org, when Vogel took first took office the ratio of felony cases filed to felony cases disposed, i.e. the trial court clearance rate, was 97%, that was above the state median.
Over the next few years, with Vogel at the helm, that ratio sharply declined. By FY ’14/’15 our circuit had the lowest felony clearance rate in the state. It wasn’t until the first 3 months of this election year that we finally inched by the state median rate.
Vogel’s County Court division is even worse. From January to March of this year, the clearance rate was an abysmal 20 points beneath the state median clearance rate.
While the issue of the death penalty is currently in limbo, there is no doubt that it was in effect when the horrific Tavernier double homicide was committed. Many legal minds agree that there were sufficient aggravating circumstances to warrant, if not virtually require, Ms. Vogel to demand the death penalty. The rules require that the state notify the defense of that intent within a finite time after the arraignment. Ms. Vogel failed to follow that rule. As a result the state was foreclosed from pursuing the death penalty in this terrible case that had a major impact on our community. One can only imagine the pain that Ms. Vogel’s inaction caused the family of the victims.
Ms. Vogel, acting as State Attorney, used her staff to make a demand of our schools for the name, age, and address of every graduating senior. This, of course is an election year. She had never made such a demand in the past. Her actions caused great consternation in the School Board. It is to be noted that no such demand had been made in previous years. But, in this election year, Ms. Vogel saw fit to use the power of her office, and to expend many of your tax dollars in order to satisfy Ms. Vogel’s demand. She claimed that she only wished to send the grads congratulatory notes. To paraphrase my Uncle Vinny…..”Yeah……Sure!”
But what of her opponent, Dennis Ward?
In 2011 (Ward was then State Attorney) the Key West Citizen wrote of Mr. Ward: ”It is a breath of fresh air to have our State Attorney, an elected official, aggressively pursue public corruption and being vigilant regarding the transparency in decision-making by elected officials and government administrators.”
The Free Press wrote:
“Florida Keys Contractor Association board members were clearly thrilled with high-profile stings carried out by the State Attorney’s Office targeting illegal contractors.”
Bill Kelley, Executive Director, Florida Keys Commercial Fisherman’s Association said: “…Dennis Ward successfully prosecuted some of the highest profile cases in Monroe County and assembled one of the finest prosecutorial teams ever seen in Monroe County.”
Mr. Ward is a seasoned law enforcement professional who has dedicated much of his life in service to the public. As a police officer he swore to “Protect and Serve”. He lived that oath as a police officer and as our State Attorney. He will continue to honor that oath as our next State Attorney. It’s in his DNA.
Big Pine Key