Broward Elections Office “Private Contract” Attorney Had No Contract For 12 Years

Broward SOE lawyer Burnadette Norris-Weeks
Broward SOE lawyer Burnadette Norris-Weeks

According to the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office (SOE), Dr. Brenda Snipes’ “private contract” attorney operated without a contract for twelve years. Burnadette Norris-Weeks has been general counsel for SOE since 2003. The contract, provided by SOE, shows Norris-Weeks signed the “Attorney-Client Fee Contract” on January 1, 2015. Dr. Snipes did not sign the contract until May 14, 2015.

The contract states Norris-Weeks handles, “all legal matters as the assigned General Counsel for [Snipes].” Norris-Weeks receives a flat fee of $5,000 per month. The flat fee does not cover, “matters requiring travel outside of Broward County or litigation matters filed in Federal Court, in any court of appeals or administrative proceeding.” For those matters, SOE must pay Norris-Weeks $175 per hour.

Even with a contract, Snipes’ arrangement with Norris-Weeks is unique among Broward’s Constitutional Officers. Attorney Mila Schwartzreich is employed by Broward County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish. Vanessa Steinerts is employed by Broward Clerk of Courts Howard Forman. Ron Gunzburger heads a team of lawyers employed by Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. Norris-Weeks is not even listed on the SOE website.

Invoices obtained by REDBROWARD show Norris-Weeks was paid nearly $175,000 between 2012 and 2014. She billed SOE $175 per hour to answer questions from SOE employees and respond to emails from local political consultants. She even billed the same hourly rate to attend election canvassing meetings. During this three year period, Norris-Weeks earned thousands of dollars handling cases in Broward County courtrooms.

COURTROOM CASES

In July 2014, REDBROWARD reported Burnadette Norris-Weeks fought to keep non-Democrats from voting in the Broward Commission District 2 primary. In hearings to exclude bogus write-in candidate Tyron Francois from the ballot, Norris-Weeks gave Judge Sandra Perlman a myriad of excuses of why it was too late to open the August 26 primary to Republican and Independent voters. On July 11, Francois testified he did not live in District 2 at the time of qualifying. Francois admitted under oath that he knew Dale Holness’ daughter. Superlawyer William Scherer produced a photograph of Francois and Damara Holness.

RED BROWARD reported Burnadette Norris-Weeks is a longtime supporter of Dale Holness. In October 2012, she made a $500 contribution to Holness’ re-election campaign. Weeks later, Holness was a guest at Norris-Weeks “holiday party.” RED BROWARD obtained pictures of the party Norris-Weeks posted on Facebook. Norris-Weeks took exception to the reporting of her support for Holness. In a conversation with a Daily Broward contributor, she questioned why we did not report her contributions to other Broward Commissioners.  Norris-Weeks said, “Last time I checked, there was no prohibition on giving a contribution and I fail to understand the link between the contribution and my responsibilities to my client as an attorney.”

Invoices submitted by Norris-Weeks show she was paid $5,057.50 for the two-day Francois hearing in July. Invoices related to the Francois matter, submitted between June and October 2014, total nearly $40,000 worth of taxpayer dollars.

REDBROWARD asked Dr. Snipes to explain why she did not have a contract with her private contract attorney for twelve years. We asked Dr. Snipes why she suddenly signed a contract in May 2015.

Dr. Snipes has not responded to our request for comment.

 

Will Broward Elections Lawyer Skip Airport Diversity Conference Sponsored By “Awful & Racist” County Commission?

Dale Holness, left, owes big bucks to Florida governments
Dale Holness, left, owes big bucks to Florida governments

It’s been a busy week for Broward Supervisor Of Elections private lawyer Burnadette Norris Weeks. First, she attempted to quash all questions regarding her partisan political activities as “awful and racist.” She sent out a mass email urging community support for her plan to keep Broward County Commissioners from asking her boss, Dr. Brenda Snipes to be the “leader” of ethics.

Later this week, Broward County will play host for the 2015 Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) conference at the Marriott Harbor Beach Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. Last October, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport honchos wanted nearly one million dollars of public funds to pay for the event. The mission of the Airport Minority Advisory Council is “to promote the inclusion of minorities and women in employment and contracting opportunities throughout the aviation industry.” One woman with big contracting opportunities in the aviation industry is Burnadette Norris Weeks.

Last year, REDBROWARD exposed Norris Weeks’ lucrative contract with Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport through the Paradies company.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) program is supposed to increase opportunities for minority and women-owned small businesses to operate as concessionaires in airports around the country. Locally, Broward County Office of Economic and Small Business Development (OESBD) “works to certify local firms as ACDBEs and to establish annual ACDBE participation goals for the County’s airport projects.” In order to retain its food and concession contracts at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, TheParadies Shops needed to comply with the ACDBE guidelines. In 2006, Paradies formed Paradies-Broward LLC. According to State of Florida corporate records, Paradies-Broward LLC was comprised of four members: The Paradies Shops, JD Ruffin Associates Inc., Maria Soldani Consulting LLC and Right Consulting LLC. Burnadette Norris-Weeks is listed as a member of Paradies-Broward LLC.

REDBROWARD obtained photographs of Norris Weeks attending the June 2014 AMAC conference in Denver. Norris Weeks and Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness were pictured dancing at the AMAC conference.

One month later, Norris Weeks fought a lawsuit seeking to remove the boyfriend of Dale Holness’ daughter from the County Commission District 2 ballot. Write-in candidate Tyron Francois admitted he did not live in the district. Still, REDBROWARD witnessed Norris Weeks take the lead role in the courtroom to keep Francois in the race.

County Commissioner Mark Bogen won the District 2 race. Last week, Snipes admitted to Bogen she was unaware Norris Weeks has supported Lisa Aronson, one of his opponents.

Bogen wants Snipes to keep employees to support candidates from playing an active role in those races.

Instead, Snipes and Norris Weeks went on the attack. Snipes called Bogen a bully. Norris Weeks labeled the ethics proposals as “racist.”

In a nasty email to Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan, Norris Weeks admitted to filing Florida Bar complaints over his attempts to speak with Dr. Snipes.

Last week, Bogen told Snipes that Norris Weeks threatened to do the same to him.

Is Norris Weeks above questioning? Can anybody dare to speak to Dr. Snipes directly?

Broward deserves answers.

Alcee Hastings, Sun-Sentinel Touted Political Activities Of Broward Elections Office Lawyer

Broward Supervisor of Elections (SOE) Brenda Snipes may be clueless, but Congressman Alcee Hastings and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel touted the political activities of Snipes’ “right-hand lawyer” Burnadette Norris Weeks. At a Broward County Commission workshop this week, Snipes admitted she did not know Norris Weeks gave money to candidates with legal matters involving SOE. County Commissoner Mark Bogen has proposed a resolution requiring SOE lawyers to recuse themselves from matters involving candidates they have endorsed or supported. The resolution will be discussed at the June 9th County Commission meeting.

REDBROWARD reported Bogen questioned Norris Weeks’ role in last year’s District 2 election. Norris Weeks fought to keep write-in candidate Tyron Francois on the ballot even though he admitted to living outside District 2. In court, Francois admitted to a close relationship with the daughter of controversial County Commissioner Dale Holness.

REDBROWARD reported Norris Weeks was a staunch supporter of Holness. Just weeks before the court hearing, Norris Weeks attended a minority business conference in Denver. REDBROWARD obtained pictures of Norris Weeks and Holness dancing at the convention. Norris Weeks has a concession contract with the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport.

THE BULLY DEFENSE

Burnadette Norris Weeks launched a defense of Snipes on Facebook. She pulled the same “bully” card Snipes used against Bogen. Norris Weeks wrote, “As the attorney for the Supervisor of Elections Office for more than a decade, I have seen Republicans, Democrats and Independents all try to bully Dr. Brenda Snipes at one time or another on a myriad of issues.” She claimed the complaints stem from “people who feel that they cannot control this constitutional office are seeking to destroy it.”

POLITICAL OPERATIVE OR IMPARTIAL LAWYER?

Even though Snipes claimed ignorance of Norris Weeks’ political forays, Congressman Alcee Hastings boasted of her work. In an October 2012 Westside Gazette article, Hastings wrote, “I tried to get a current list of all of the African American organizations in Broward County.  Nobody, I mean nobody, is working from a list that has all the names and leaders of every organization in Broward. That’s ridiculous people.”

Hastings continued, “Enter Step Up to the Polls, the brainchild of Burnadette Norris-Weeks and her law partner.  They have pulled together what I believe will be the most effective effort of an African American led effort this election season.  I am following their leadership, and I encourage you to do the same.”

One week later, Sun-Sentinel Editorial Writer Douglas Lyons praised Norris Weeks’ work to get President Obama re-elected. Lyons wrote, “Even better, other black professionals and organizations have organized similar efforts. Take today’s early morning “Steps to the Polls,” a march from downtown Fort Lauderdale to one of the early voting polling sites at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center…spearheaded by prominent attorney Burnadette Norris Weeks, is just one of several last-minute attempts to rally the faithful to take advantage of early voting and tip the scales of a razor-thin race in Florida to the president’s advantage.”

Shouldn’t the “right-hand lawyer” for the Broward Supervisor Of Elections Office be above politics? Should the SOE private contract lawyer play any role in partisan politics?

Shouldn’t Supervisor Of Elections Brenda Snipes be asking these questions?