BY BUDDY NEVINS
The alleged mistreatment of blacks and Hispanics by the State Attorney’s Office is becoming a major issue in the race against incumbent Mike Satz.
Four attorneys – one who has already opened a campaign and three others who are seriously considering one – say Satz’s disproportionate prosecution of minorities for drug possession and minor offenses will be vigorously debated.
Satz vehemently denies that he has been unfair.
“I’ve heard it and it’s absolutely false,” he said. “We have a diversion program. Somebody with a small amount of drugs can go in that program. If they get in trouble again, they can go to drug court. If they get in trouble again, they go on probation.
“Remember that Mike Satz and none of the prosecutors in this office do any sentencing. Judges do all the sentencing. Judges in Broward County are sensitive to drug problems,” he said.
“The State Attorney’s Office doesn’t arrest suspects. The police agencies do that. Even if I was Attila the Hun – and I’m not – I couldn’t unilaterally put people in jail,” Satz continued.
“If somebody has a drug problem and has not hurt anybody, I believe they should get help,” Satz said. “That’s my position.”
Argument over? Not quite.
*Jim Lewis, a Republican candidate, told the redstate.com website, “For non-violent offenders, I want real attempts to rehabilitate low risk offenders instead of using valuable prison space on drug addicts and the mentally ill.”
*Teisha Powell, a foreclosure defense specialist and a Republican, is expected to make the same argument if she runs. A source with her ear told Browardbeat.com that “the disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos prosecuted for possession and minor crimes under Satz” will be a key issue.
*Chris Mancini, the independent hopeful, also told Browardbeat.com that Satz’s only dealings with minorities was to “lock ‘em up.”
*Kevin Kulik, a Broward criminal defense attorney who will run as a Democrat, has criticized what he calls Satz’s unfair prosecution of minorities.
Such arguments would usually fall on deaf ears. The vast majority of voters have repeatedly shown they don’t care about the plight of the underclass as long as they feel safe in their homes.
This year might be different.
With the current squeeze on taxpayers, candidates make a case that locking up folks for committing inconsequential victimless crimes is costing too much money.
Each kid in jail for possession of a few joints costs taxpayers thousands.
I have been told that a leading Florida polling firm tested the message of Satz’s alleged unfair treatment of minorities.
The poll found that large numbers of blacks are less likely to vote for Satz when told of that message. Blacks are also less likely in larger numbers to vote for Satz when they learn only a handful of his prosecutors are black.
The poll question on the number of black lawyers at Satz’s office is unfair.
The State Attorney’s Office has 18 black lawyers out of 200 lawyers or about 9 percent. Four out of the nine lawyers in the career criminal unit are black.
Satz has a far better percentage of black lawyers than the Florida Bar. A 2008-2009 survey found only 3 percent of Bar members were black.
He was also the first Broward State Attorney to hire a black attorney—Chuck Morton, who is now his chief deputy.
These facts about black attorneys aren’t an advertisement for Satz. Just the truth.
I was not shown the poll. I know the actual poll numbers, but I promised not to quote them.
If accurate, those figures could be decisive in a Democratic primary. Black voters comprise a larger number of Democratic voters each year.
Should Satz be worried?
I would imagine his initial name ID is many times what any challenger has. He should have more money. His explanation of his sentencing philosophy makes sense to me.
But I’ve seen many incumbents (like Sheriff Nick Navarro in 1992 and U. S. Rep. Ed Stack in 1980) take challengers for granted and lose.
If Satz campaigns hard, raises enough money and hires competent political talent to fashion his message, he should be okay.
The only thing I can predict: By next August’s primary, Satz will know he has been in his toughest race for years.