Florida senators have a tough task ahead. Today they convene in special session to decide the fate of suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
Expect a high emotion quotient. More than two dozens Broward citizens, including parents of murdered children, vowed to travel to Tallahassee to have their say at the proceedings.
Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Israel from office three days after he was inaugurated, saying the Broward Sheriff's Department's response to the deadly mass shootings at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2017 and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018 showed "incompetence" and "neglect of duty".
Not so, responded Israel, who argued his case before Special Master Dudley Goodlette, a former Republican legislator from Naples appointed by Senate President Bill Galvano.
Israel's lawyer portrayed DeSantis as using the deaths of 17 students and staff members at MSDHS for political gain. He said DeSantis was promising to remove Israel even before the governor was elected in November.
Goodlette ruled Sept. 25 that the governor failed to back up his allegations against the sheriff with sufficient evidence. He recommended that the ousted sheriff get his job back.
“As ‘a conservator of the peace’ Israel is responsible for equipping deputies with the knowledge and resources needed to protect the residents of the county against criminal behavior,” Goodlette wrote.
“To that end, neglect and incompetence of the magnitude required for removal must be tied to institutional failure. It is not enough to show that a deputy (or deputies) acted improperly and failed to follow protocol, which is all the governor proposes here.”
DeSantis is fighting back. Rather than let the evidence speak for itself, he has hired GrayRobinson attorney George T. Levesque as outside counsel.
In a stinging editorial in September ("Case closed: Florida Senate must reinstate Scott Israel as Broward sheriff") The Sun-Sentinel, newspaper of record in Broward County, called for the governor to give Israel back his badge. Likewise, The Palm Beach Post came out in favor of upholding Goodlette's recommendation. The paper claims Levesque is only there "to twist (senators') arms."
The Post concludes the matter belongs in the hands of Broward voters who will get a chance next year either to re-elect Israel or vote in his replacement, Gregory Tony. Both men have filed to run for the job.
Wrote the Post, "Senators should vote to reinstate (Israel), and close the curtain on this bad political theater."
Goodlette received a death threat after his report was released in late September, Galvano spokeswoman Katie Betta confirmed to The News Service of Florida. Galvano directed the Senate sergeant to alert the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about the threat, which the Senate president considered “very serious,” Betta said.
In an email to NSF, she said, “The Senate is coordinating with Capitol Police to ensure the safety of all visitors, staff and senators attending meetings related to the special session. President Galvano has requested that enhanced security precautions and protocols, which are confidential, be in place for the proceedings."
The Senate will convene the special session at 9 a.m. But the real work starts when the Senate Rules Committee begins a 10:30 a.m. meeting in 412 Knott Building to consider Goodlette's recommendations. That meeting, hearing from all stakeholders, will clear the way for the full Senate to decide on Israel's reinstatement or removal from the sheriff’s job.
The special session will be televised on The Florida Channel.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith