JQC Files Formal Charges Against Broward Judge Matthew Destry For Secret Deal With Controverisal Political Activist

Judge Matt Destry , left, is all smiles with Vicente Thrower at recent community event in Pompano Beach.
Just days before the August primary, the Investigative Panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) determined Broward County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Destry violated numerous judicial rules by meeting with a local political activist. JAABlaw first reported the formal charges against Destry. While he was soundly defeated in the primary, the severity of charges would have likely lead to Destry’s removal from the bench. As REDBROWARD exclusively reported, Barbara Duffy was Destry’s only opponent to vigorously question his actions and demeanor on the bench. Even though voters rewarded Duffy with the most votes, the number of candidates running against Destry guaranteed a November runoff.

Last year, Destry gained international scorn for his sentencing of Herbert Smith to sixty-years in prison.

Four years ago, Herbert Smith was found guilty of seven burglaries and thefts. He served two years in prison. While serving four years of probation, police stopped Smith for driving with a suspended license. According to the Sun-Sentinel, “Smith violated his probation in October by driving with a suspended license in a car with another convicted felon and an ammunition clip filled with .40-caliber bullets, the same judge who gave him a second chance in 2012 decided to send a stronger message.” The judge was Matthew Destry.

The Broward State Attorney wanted Smith to serve 13 years in prison. Destry sentenced Smith to 60 years in prison. “I think 13 is a bit much, but the law is the law,” said Smith’s attorney, Brian Greenwald. “The prosecutor was not being vindictive.”

Following the public outcry, Destry changed his mind. He suspended Smith’s sentence.“To go from 60 years in prison to being released that day — the takeaway is that justice is random in Broward County,” Howard Finkelstein of the Broward Public Defender’s Office tells New Times.“Destry did the right thing but for the wrong reasons.”

DESTRY CUT SECRET DEAL WITH POLITICAL ACTIVIST

According to the JQC, Destry changed Smith’s sentence after a secret meeting at a Las Olas restaurant. One week after sentencing Smith, Destry met activist Vicente Thrower and Rev. Alan B. Jackson at Mangos. “This meeting, …took place outside the presence of the State Attorney and Defendant, and without the knowledge of either party.” When questioned by JQC investigators in August, Destry was “evasive” about Thrower. Destry admitted Thrower had his personal cell phone number. “Only when pressed did [Destry] disclose that he was a political activist who had worked to generate community support for your first judicial campaign in 2010.”

After meeting with them for an hour, “Mr. Thrower and Rev. Jackson convinced you to reopen the matter, arguing that their community had not been adequately heard on Mr. Smith’s sentencing, and they wanted a chance to speak on his behalf. You have admitted that while meeting with Mr. Thrower and Rev. Jackson you committed to setting a hearing to reconsider Mr. Smith’s sentence, and invited Mr. Thrower and Rev. Jackson to attend and be heard regarding the matter.”

According to the JQC, Destry admitted to the improper meeting at a Sun-Sentinel editorial board meeting. “You also acknowledged this meeting between yourself and Mr. Thrower and Rev. Jackson during an interview with the editorial board of the Sun Sentinel newspaper. Your comments were tape-recorded, and witnessed by other judicial candidates as well as newspaper staff. You further acknowledged to the Commission that, after this meeting, you were aware that Mr. Thrower began urging members of his community to support your current re-election campaign.”

Since prosecutors and defense lawyers were not told about the meeting, investigators determined Destry’s meeting with Thrower constituted an ex-parte meeting, a huge no-no for judges. Destry conceded it was ex parte, but tried to argue it fell under an “emergency” or “scheduling” exception.

Following the meeting, the JQC stated Destry scheduled a new hearing on his own accord to discuss his sentencing. Neither prosecutors nor defense lawyers had made a motion regarding sentencing.  JQC investigators stated Destry failed to give lawyers adequate notice, but he, “personally phoned Mr. Thrower to inform him of the date and time of the hearing, and again invited him to be present.”

Finally, the JQC stated, “Taken together, your actions create the appearance of a quid pro quo exchange of political support for favorable judicial action, and further constitutes inappropriate conduct in violation of Canons 1, 2(A), 3B(2), 3B(7), 3B(8), 3B(9), 5A(2), 5A(3), 5A(4), of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

 

Former Broward Health Chairman & His Legal Dream Team’s History Of Silencing Online Critics


As reported earlier this week, it appears as though someone does not want REDBROWARD to reveal information regarding the Young At Art childrens museum in Davie. On September 6, attorney Bruce Green sent a preservation letter to Broward Health Commissioner Sheela Van Hoose regarding REDBROWARD.com. Green is one of the lawyers who sued Florida Governor Rick Scott after David Di Pietro was removed as chairman of Broward Health. Jay Spechler, another one of Di Pietro’s lawyers, is married to Mindy Shrago, the executive director of Young At Art. Spechler was enraged after REDBROWARD asked about a item related to the museum last month.

Green’s letter arrived two weeks after Spechler became angry about our line of questioning.Days later, a Spechler emissary tried to broker a “truce.” The emissary was told Spechler should contact REDBROWARD directly. The next day, an anonymous post on the JAABLaw courthouse blog featured a photograph of this reporter’s family including two minor children. 

One could reasonably take the legal action and family picture as a threat.

Di Pietro and his legal team have a history of attempting to silence online critics.

WEBSITES TARGETED OVER ANONYMOUS COMMENTS

In March 2016, another member of Di Pietro’s legal team brought legal action against JAABlaw website operator William Gelin. Brian Silber wanted Gelin to reveal information about an anonymous reader who posted comments about former Sunrise City Commissioner Sheila Alu. Silber’s “Jane Doe” lawsuit wanted identifying information, including IP addresses, about the person who made comments about Alu. Silber was seeking $15,000 in damages.

In May, Judge Michael Gates agreed with Gelin’s argument that Citizens United and other case law gave First Amendment protection to anonymous political speech.

In July, Di Pietro filed a “John Doe” lawsuit on behalf of two doctors affiliated with Broward Health. Jean-Jacques and Juliana Rajter are suing Vitals.com, a medical professional rating website. The lawsuit alleges an anonymous reviewer gave Rajter a one star rating on the website. The lawsuit wants Vitals.com to reveal identifying information about the anonymous reviewer. Di Pietro’s complaint asks for $10,000 in damages.

According to Broward Health magazine, Jean-Jacques Rajter served as the “Chief Medical Information Officer for Broward Health.” It’s unclear if Rajter is the first Broward Health doctor to be represented by David Di Pietro or his legal “dream team.”

DREAM TEAM WANTS TAXPAYERS TO PAY HUGE LEGAL BILLS

Following his lawsuit against Florida Governor Rick Scott, David Di Pietro’s legal team submitted a huge legal bill to Florida taxpayers. In June, Buddy Nevins of BrowardBeat reported Bruce Green, Jay Spechler, and Brian Silber wanted $155,000 in legal fees and expenses. According to Nevins:

*Brian Silber, a criminal defense attorney and courthouse blogger who wants $42,525 in fees at $450 per hour.

*Bruce David Green, a Florida Bar certified aviation attorney who is asking for $49,938 at a rate of $450 per hour,

*Jay Spechler, a former Broward judge who is asking for $45,450 at a rate of $450 per hour,

*Ashley Steffen, Rudy Mayor and Nicole Martell, who are part of Di Pietro’s law firm and asking for $17,122 at $250 per hour.

 

INTIMIDATION GAME: Former Broward Health Chairman’s Legal Team Trying To Stop Embarrassing Museum Story?

from left: Brian Silber, David Di Pietro & Jay Spechler
Is the legal team for former Broward Health Chairman David Di Pietro trying to stop REDBROWARD from publishing an embarrassing story tied to the Young At Art Children’s Museum in Davie? 

On March 18, 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott removed Di Pietro from his Broward Health post over “‘grave concerns’ about interference by board members into a state investigation of the public hospital system.” Di Pietro hired six lawyers to fight Governor Scott’s decision. Di Pietro’s legal dream team included Brian Silber, Bruce Green and Jay Spechler.

INTIMIDATION AT BROWARD HEALTH

In response to Di Pietro’s lawsuit, Governor Scott cited a letter from his Chief Inspector General who was conducting an investigation of the Broward Health Board and contracts at the District. Scott’s legal brief stated, “Board Members may have the authority…and there are suspicions about pressure being applied by certain Board members on staff of Broward Health to steer contracts to various entities.”

According to published reports, investigators are looking into a multi-million dollar contract between Broward Health and Zimmerman Advertising. At the time the $70 million dollar contract was being negotiated, Broward County Commissioner Chip La Marca was an employee of Zimmerman Advertising. David Di Pietro is a close friend, political adviser and lawyer for La Marca.

REDBROWARD reported an investigation by the Berger Singerman law firm discovered a pattern of threats and intimidation directed by County Commissioner Chip LaMarca at Broward Health employees. Berger Singerman was hired by the Broward Health commissioners to monitor the Inspector General of Florida investigation into claims of corruption involving contract procurement at the North Broward Hospital District. Mitchell Berger and lawyers at his firm interviewed LaMarca and Broward Health officials regarding the multi-million dollar contract with Zimmerman Advertising.

Chip LaMarca’s role in the $71 million dollar contract for Zimmerman Advertising dominates the 132 page report from Berger Singerman. The report details an August 2015 meeting at a North Broward Waffle House restaurant.

Chip LaMarca met the late Dr. Nabil El Sanadi and Doris Peek, a Broward Health senior vice president to discuss the Zimmerman Advertising contract. While LaMarca claims Zimmerman hired him to perform “community relations,” the Berger Singerman report shows he was the main force pushing the contract. According to the report, Peek claims LaMarca threatened El Sanadi. Peek stated the purpose of the meeting “was to discuss Zimmerman’s desire to epand its contract with the District and Mr. LaMarca carried the conversation.” LaMarca told Berger Singerman lawyers that El Sanadi called for the meeting. LaMarca said El Sanadi wanted his advice on “how El Sanadi should approach Mr. Zimmerman about the maketing issue.” Peek claims LaMarca stated at this meeting that his role at Zimmerman was to develop new business for Zimmerman Advertising.

At the same meeting, Peek stated LaMarca asked Broward Health to move its marketing working group meetings to a new night. The group met on Tuesdays, the same day as Broward County Commission meetings. When she asked why he wanted to attend these meetings, Peek claims LaMarca said, “he wished to identify new opportunities which could be mutually beneficial to the District and Zimmerman.”

During the Waffle House meeting, Peek claims Chip LaMarca leveled a direct threat at El Sanadi. Peek told investigators that LaMarca said, “I put you here, and I can take you out.” Peek believes LaMarca wanted El Sanadi to support the lucrative contract for Zimmerman Advertising. El Sanadi committed suicide earlier this year.

Last week, POLITICO reported Broward Health has not turned over documents related to Chip LaMarca. “Melinda Miguel, Scott’s chief inspector general, sent a letter to Broward Health Board of Commissioners Chairman Rocky Rodriguez Monday saying she was ‘deeply troubled by what may be an intentional effort to withhold requested emails from my office’ and told him that Broward Health has until Sept. 23 to provide her office with all the emails she requested from the health care district.” According to POLITICO reporter Christine Sexton, “Miguel’s letter specifically notes that she is looking for emails from Chip LaMarca, Broward County Commissioner and Vice President of Community Relations for the Zimmerman Advertising Agency; former commissioner and board chairman David Di Pietro; and, former Chief Executive Officer Nabil El Sanadi, who commited suicide in January.

THE CHAIRMAN

Even though he’s no longer the chairman of Broward Health, David Di Pietro still heads at least one local board. He is the Chairman of the Board of the Young At Art (YAA) Children’s Museum. The executive director of YAA is Mindy Shrago, the wife of Jay Spechler. As REDBROWARD reported last year, YAA is battling the Broward County Commission over loan payments. According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Broward County invested $20.6 million into YAA, expecting $11.2 million back in 11 years. But the museum defaulted almost immediately after the museum opened in 2012. The deal was changed to allow YAA to repay the money over 37 years. Sun-Sentinel reporter Brittany Wallman wrote, “County Auditor Evan Lukic said in a recent memo the museum isn’t honoring that agreement, either. The museum was to give the county half of any pledge payments, a tab Lukic says was underpaid by $240,888. Lukic also doubted the museum’s ability to pay what it owes in the future.”

Di Pietro told Wallman, “People want to give money to not-for-profit museums….They don’t want to give money to the government.”

WHO WANTS TO SILENCE RED BROWARD?

During early voting last month, Silber, Spechler and Di Pietro were spotted campaigning for Judge Nina Weatherly Di Pietro, Mrs. David Di Pietro. In a conversation with Spechler and his wife Mindy Shrago at the Coral Ridge Mall early voting location, this reporter asked Spechler about an issue concerning Young At Art Museum. Spechler, a former Broward County Judge, became enraged. Spechler asked this reporter how he would “feel if somebody came after your kids.” When this reported asked if Spechler was issuing a threat, Shrago implored her husband to calm down because, “we’re so close to a new deal” with Broward County.

Less than a month later, one of Di Pietro’s lawyer sent a legal letter to Broward Health Commissioner Sheela Van Hoose. On September 6, attorney Bruce Green sent a letter to Van Hoose demanding she preserve all emails, data and equipment related to REDBROWARD.com. At one point, Van Hoose owned the REDBROWARD domain name. Green wrote, “We consider personnel information and electronic data to be a valuable and irreplaceable source of discovert and/or evidence in this matter. The laws and rules prohibiting destruction of evidence apply to electronic data with the same force as they apply to other kinds of evidence.”

Green never stated the “matter” involving REDBROWARD.com. There is no ongoing legal matter. Green never identified his client. It appears Green’s letter is an attempt to intimidate REDBROWARD and/or Van Hoose with the threat of some future legal action.

Shortly after the Green letter was sent, an emissary was sent by Spechler to an intermediary to broker a “truce.” They were told to contract REDBROWARD directly. The next day, somenone posted a picture of this reporter and his family on the JAABlaw website. The minor children of this reporter were clearly visible in the photograph. The post included a link to a gay slur and a heavy dose of body shaming. The operator of the website pulled the post. Thank you.


NEXT: THE STORY YAA DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SEE