Archive for August, 2009

Who’s Your Daddy
August 26, 2009

Two Miami courtrooms, two cases, one very interesting juxtaposition of Florida law:

In criminal court, prosecutors dropped a child abuse case against a man named Loscar Rodriguez, a father, who decided that a good belt lashing would teach his 8 year old son to get better grades.  Did the boy get better grades?  Not sure, but he did get raised welts on his leg and backside, bruises big and purple enough to alarm a teacher, and a butt that hurt him to sit upon.

At the same time, across town at the District Court of Appeals, a man named Frank Gill fought to protect his status as the father of two boys he first fostered then adopted.  He and his partner had taken in the two young brothers who had known no other healthy family, and were eventually called exemplary fathers and family, but the state is appealing the adoption because Gill is gay.

Florida law bans gay people from adopting children.  But it protects the right to beat a child with an object until he/she is black and blue.

Back in criminal court, prosecutors cited case law that helped them decide the belt-wielding, lash-giving Rodriguez is not a child abuser under the law.  Turns out, in cases past, Florida appellate judges have opined “even significant bruises or welts from paddling” is discipline, not abuse; that “a strike on the face, a split lip, forced feeding” is – you guessed it – discipline, not abuse.   Exactly what does a child learn from that?  How and when to dole out the same violence when he/she grows up?

Back to the DCA.  Attorneys for Gill argued Florida’s exclusion of gays in the adoption process is unconstitutional.  The ban has been law for decades and has prevented countless children from the benefits of loving, responsible, nurturing parents.   

The appellate court ruling usually takes a few months.

The criminal court case was dropped in 12 minutes.


When Here is not Really Here
August 17, 2009

There is so much to ask Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

South Florida’s tenured Cuban-American Congressman became Governor Charlie Crist’s surprise list-topper to fill the temporary caretaking post of retiring Mel Martinez’s U.S. Senate seat.  A chess move in Republican Party strategy?  Conservative credential-building for the Governor?  What’s in it for the Congressman to be a temporary placeholder? 

The questions go unanswered today because the Congressman’s Miami district office staffers said he is missing.

Not missing as in South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford Argentina-Hook-Up-via-Hiking-the-Appalachian-Trail missing.  Just incommunicado, unreachable.

Respectfully, if Diaz-Balart didn’t want to talk about the pending Senate pick, he might have had his staff say something like “I’d rather not comment until the Governor makes his decision.” Or something as simple as “I appreciate the call, but I won’t be available today.”  (Even without the appreciation part.)

Instead, congressional staffers simply said they could not get in touch with him, didn’t even know where he was.   And that led to some baffling exchanges.

First, the call to the Miami district office about 9:30 Monday morning:

“Hello, This is Glenna Milberg at Local10 News.  I’m hoping the Congressman is available to talk today.”

“Oh, I’ll have to have someone call you back.”

“OK,” I said.  “Is he in Miami or Washington today?”   I didn’t think that would be a tough question.

“I’m not sure.  Let me have someone call you back.”

And so we waited about an hour, leaving other messages in the meantime for the Congressman’s Chief of Staff and press liaison in Washington.  Then, another call to the Miami district office.

“Hello, it’s Glenna Milberg again.  While I’m waiting for the press secretary, can you just tell me whether the Congressman is in Miami or Washington?  Because if he is not physcially in Miami, I’ll say thank you and be on my merry way.”

“Ok, hold please.”  A few minutes pass.  “Hello, ok I’m going to have someone call you back.”

“Can you just tell me whether the Congressman is in town?  Really, just his physical whereabouts, that’s all I’m asking at the moment.”  I try not to sound desperate.

“No, his scheduler is on a conference call.”

“You mean to say not one person in Congressman Diaz-Balart’s office even knows what city he is located in right now?”  I try not to sound condescending.  I really don’t mean to be.

“No, I’m sorry.” 

You may want to stop reading here, but keep going, it gets better.

I call the Washington office.

“Hello, this is Glenna Milberg, Local10 News in Miami.  Can you tell me whether the Congressman is in Washington or Miami today?”

“He’s in Miami today.”  

Ok, thank you.  Hmmm – back to calling the district office.  The next few conversations went much the same as the earlier ones.  No one knows where he is, if he is, or how to get in touch with him.

We decide to just go to the district office.

The very nice receptionist lady comes to the window.

“Hello, we were waiting for call backs for the last two hours and so we decided to stop by.  Is the Congressman here?”

“Yes, he is.  Wait one second.”

Ok, I think, progress.  Photographer Bob goes out to the news car to get his camera and gear.

But in the meantime, another woman comes out to the lobby to say that the Congressman isn’t in the office.

“But the receptionist just told me he was here.”

“No, she didn’t mean he was here here.  She meant he was here in Miami.”

Uh, no.  That is absolutely not what she meant.  

She continued.  “I will call you as soon as I hear from him.”

Have you heard from them?  I haven’t either.

The one person who did return the call late in the day was Diaz-Balart’s Washington DC-based press secretary, graciously apologizing for his delay.

He said the Congressman is pretty busy today, as it is his first day back working in the Miami district office. 

Hmmm ……

Some Justice is More Equal Than Others
August 13, 2009

In the courtroom where a judge was considering changes to Donte Stallworth’s house arrest, you’d have thought The Media was the defendant.

The judge derided the press for the way some reported Stallworth’s request to leave house arrest for daily workouts with his trainer.  The judge poked fun at the media scrutiny (ie: public scrutiny) of a sports-celeb convicted of DUI manslaughter, even tossing out the address of his training facility in Weston in case anyone wanted to go watch.

You could tell the judge is thoroughly over the Donte Stallworth case.  Plea offered, plea taken, and so what’s the big deal in letting the suspended NFL player leave house arrest every day for the gym, so he can be in shape if the League decides he can still play?

“What’s the difference in this?” His Honor asked.  “The perception that someone is going to say he’s getting different treatment?”

Yes, Judge Murphy, Donte Stallworth did get different treatment. 

Legally, the facts of the case led to the plea deal: the actions of victim Mario Reyes may have contributed to his own death, as he darted across the causeway, against the light.   Would Stallworth have been able to avoid hitting Reyes if he hadn’t been driving drunk?   Who can know.  Would Reyes’ family have agreed to a downgraded DUI manslaughter sentence if Stallworth hadn’t agreed to pay them millions?   Hmmm.   But he did, and they did, and the legal case is over.

But the court of public opinion has a different verdict.  It’s certainly not a legal one, but it is no less valid.

Celebrity, notoriety and money contributed to the outcome of this case as much as alcohol and car keys.

Is Donte Stallworth a danger to society?  No, but he was that morning.   By all accounts, he is a generally good guy who made some really bad decisions and is now paying the price.  But would Regular Joe have paid the same price for driving very drunk in an accident that killed a man?

No.  Hell no.

Surprise, even some media treat him differently.

The big one-on-one “exclusive” first interview (for which an ESPN reporter was hand-picked by Team Stallworth) was no more than well-lighted,  highly stylized music-videoesque production featuring  Stallworth telling a well-rehearsed account of what he did, he saw, he thought that morning in March.  The toughest question posed to him was something like “What do you say to the people who think you got off easy?”  

The defense rests.