New Florida Bar Prez Is School Board’s Hit Man

 

BY BUDDY NEVINS

 

 

Eugene Pettis will be sworn in as the new president of the Florida Bar next month.

The Fort Lauderdale lawyer is being acclaimed as the first black leader of the almost 100,000 lawyers in Florida.

 

images

Eugene Pettis

 

Pettis might be a great lawyer.

He is also the lawyer who has defended some of the most odious practices of the Broward School Board.

He defended bureaucrats who fired a whistleblower. He fought parents who claimed their children’s illnesses were caused by air pollution in the schools.

He protects front office flunkies who do wrong and battles teachers and parents who do right.

Perhaps the most outrageous case involved Andrew Greene, a part-time teacher.  Greene’s troubles started when he decided to run against incumbent Miriam Oliphant in 1992.

School Board upper-level bureaucrats, seeking to protect Oliphant, leaked “derogatory statements gathered in an earlier disciplinary investigation of him” just a few weeks before the election, according to a court decision.  The material included information that Greene sought counseling for psychological problems.

Oliphant won two-to-one.

Greene sued and up stepped Eugene Pettis to defend the School Board.

The suit alleged “negligence and invasion of privacy” by disclosing private information.  It claimed – correctly – that the School Board staff released the information in violation of state law.

Greene won $850,000 from a jury.

And what did the School Board do? Pettis appealed the verdict.

The Board lost.

Then Pettis testified before the Florida House stating that paying Greene would damage the school system.

This is taking advocacy to a new level.

What would have happened if the Board bureaucrats didn’t leak the information?  Maybe Greene would have won.

Oliphant’s political career would have been over, she would have never become Elections Supervisor. There would have been no botched 2002 election that ended with her removal from office.

That’s not all, of course.

If the documents weren’t leaked, Pettis would not have run up thousands in legal fees that we taxpayers paid to defend political dirty tricks by the School Board staff.

How much?

A Sun-Sentinel article in 2000 by my pal Bill Hirschman wrote: “a legislative claims committee that estimated the cost of the original suit at $518,000” for the School Board, not counting any money paid to Greene.

 

Pettis Admired By Many

 

Pettis has a lot to recommend him as Bar president.

A trial attorney practicing since 1985, he is very well respected in legal circles. He is dedicated to legal education and pro bono work.

Pettis told the Bar that his goals in the coming year are continuing “the advancement of identifying a long-term, predictable source of court funding so that every Floridian will be assured access to our courts.”

Another goal is “achieving true diversity and inclusion within our profession.”

A third goal is to deal with “one of the devastating consequences of the recent economic downturn — the impact on legal aid organizations,” he continued.

“We must recognize an obligation to strive for equal access to an availability of legal services for all Floridians in need.”

All noble ambitions. The achievement of any one of them would be a great testament to Pettis. If anyone can accomplish them, Pettis can.

I know what some of you are thinking:

Pettis is eminently qualified to be the next president of Florida’s Bar.

As for the School Board, it is just another Pettis client.  Everything I mentioned is just representation of his client.

I’ve got a different take.

My opinion:

Sometimes a lawyer has to do what’s right, rather than defend a bad case no matter what the facts.

My opinion:

Sometimes a lawyer has to seek justice, rather than fight those seeking justice

My opinion:

It would have been nice if the Bar had picked as its president a modern day Clarence Darrow who defends the constitutional principals of the oppressed.  They picked instead the School Board paid courthouse hit man.

 



24 Responses to “New Florida Bar Prez Is School Board’s Hit Man”

  1. Buddy for Gov says:

    And if anyone would know, especially about the underbelly of the SBBC, it is you.

  2. Henry Drummond says:

    Amen, Buddy. “A wicked law…destroys everyone it touches. its upholders as well as its defiers.”

  3. steve s says:

    This is why government shouldn’t have access to your health records. Imagine this fictional scenario, an activist like Chaz decides to do a series on police misconduct in coconut creek. Not liking this, his opponents at the ccpd decide to go fishing in the prescription drug monitoring system for evidence of mental health. They find a prescription for valium proscribed prior to a surgery (which is routine).
    the fictional headline reads, Chaz takes mood stabilizers and is mentally unstable.

    Interesting how police need a warrant to go through your cell phone but can rifle through your medical records without a warrant.

  4. jack latona says:

    Gene Pettis is a fine lawyer and a first class person. When you represent a big client you sometimes have to take the bad with the good. Clarence Darrow, by the way, represented a lot worse people than the School Board.

  5. Sam The Sham says:

    “Sometimes a lawyer has to seek justice, rather than fight those seeking justice” Buddy, it is a very low percentage of attorneys who would fill your bill. In fact, most attorneys think it is abhorrent to fight for “justice”, and that an adversarial system is much better.

    We think of hired gunslingers in the old west as evil, but that is exactly what lawyers are today. Gunslingers for the highest bidder. We think of prostitutes as being of bad character, but isn’t that pretty much what attorneys do? Of course in the case with attorneys, it is not the client but the other guy that gets screwed.

  6. I am concerned says:

    100,000 lawyers in Florida! Now I know why this state has so many problems.

  7. Becky Blackwood says:

    It’s okay, Buddy, to mention Eugene Pettis represented the School Board against me when I refused to allow non-compliance to the correction of building code violations. My observations with the School Board was these ignored violations led to mold and mildew in 65% of our schools, as recorded in 1999.

    Further, I was pressured to allow Temporary Certificates of Occupancys (TCOs) in 2000. I allowed only 2 Conditional TCO’s to identify the problems with allowing them. The contractors did not meet the 90 day schedules, one came close but both had to be threatened with vacating these schools before they received a Certificate of Occupancy.

    Later, there were between 300-400 TC0′s from 2004-2010 with very few, if any, Certiificates of Occupancy.

    Pettis’ firm was hired to represent the false allegations accumulated by Donnie Carter, Joel Hirsch, and Lynn Strong, later promoted to Director of Human Resources.

    Those individuals who were proven to falsely testify against me were never punished and there is no policy in place today to punish those who falsely testify against another employee.

    In my video deposition with Pettis, he asked me if I lied. When I said I tried to not lie. He told me he lied all the time.

    In March 2007,a State of Florida Administrative Judge, after extensive testimony, found I had done nothing wrong and instructed the School Board to put me back to work in my old position.

    Attorney Pettis told the Board, in an October 2007 Board meeting, they should pursue firing me anyway because of the poor evaluations and reprimands in my personnel file.

    Fortunately, for me the Union and I had gotten a copy of my personnel files at the time of my removal from my position as Senior Supervisor, Inspections and Code Compliance. There were no poor evaluations (rather two that were Exceeds Expectation-the highest) and the others were satisfactory. There were no reprimands in my personnel file.

    Copies of my personnel file were offered to each Board member at a Board meeting in June 2005 when Superintendent of Schools Frank Till recommended my termination. All of the Board members refused to look at my file.

    Pettis’ used his lie about my personnel file’s reprimands and poor evaluations to convince the Board to ignore the State of Florida’s Administrative Judge’s ruling and file not 1, but 2 appeals to the Circuit Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach. The Board lost both appeals.

    The attorney who represented me through the Broward Teachers Union and the Technical Support Professionals worked for the Tallahassee law firm of Meyer and Brooks who also had a contract with Broward County School District. My complaints about conflict of interests were ignored.

    Mr. Pettis fees for his “outstanding” work getting rid of someone who tried to protect the health, safety and welfare of the students, staff and parents of the District was $150,000.

    My attorney’s fees for her “outstanding” work was $149,000. My salary and benefits, which the Board had to pay for the remaining days of my contract to the end of DROP was $67,000 gross.

    In February 2004, I was first assigned to the Book Depository to shelve and unload books and then to Purchasing were I was assigned until January 2008 by Donnie Carter and then Temporary Building Official Ron Morgan to write the Policies and Procedures for the Building Department (they didn’t have any and they still don’t), make coffee 3x a day and shred files as directed.

    Lastly, I was asked by other attorneys representing the School Board at the same time as my proposed termination, to be a witness in 3 lawsuits against architects and contractors. The School Board won these lawsuits which returned $3.3 million dollars to their coffers plus I provided expert witness information to another lawyer who was able to return approximately $4 million more in “Other” change orders that were illegally received by contractors.

    When asking people to be ethical, why can’t we start with attorneys? If Mr. Pettis is going to make some impact in Tallahassee, what will it be if he states he lies all the time? What precedent is this setting for other practicing attorneys – or is that just an idealistic question? The public deserves better.

    If someone complains this is too long, then please don’t waste your time reading this. Don’t shoot the messenger.

  8. SAM FIELDS says:

    Dear Sham,
    The adversrial system is justice. It’s two guys arguing before a neutral referee with all governed by rules.

    Spend some time in a country where the judge, investigator, and prosecutor are all rolled in one government appointed guy so that they can seek the “truth” without having lawyers muddy it up.

    It’s the system in dictatorships from North Korea to Saudia Arabia to Cuba and everything in between.

    You would be back here in a heartbeat.

    To paraphrase Churchill on democracy: “We have the worst of all judicial systems…except all the others.”

    Buddy,

    Clarence Darrow started out defending railroads against accident victims and ended up narrowly avoiding prison for bribing a Los Angeles juror in the McNamara case.

    Everyone has feet of clay. Every lawyer has shitty clients. Someone will be representing that asshole in Cleveland who kidnapped those three girls. We defend the sinner…not the sin. It’s the only way to keep the government honest.

  9. Ha Ha Ha says:

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    http://www.scribd.com/doc/139843902/Prenda-Sanctions-Order

    http://techdirt.com

    http://popehat.com

    http://arstechnica.com

    http://fightcopyrighttrolls.com

    http://dietrolldie.com

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  10. Notocorruption says:

    Ms. Blackwood always states the unvarnished truth. Every word stated here is spot on.

  11. amazing says:

    For Becky blackwood to have worked amid all that in her comment is amazing. And then to be expert witness opposing the Architects and engineers used. The retired executive Claudia Munroe worked for years for an architect who got lots of school work. the records reflect the quality or lack of. surely other staff were hired from architect firms that later continued to get design work from bcs. its incestuous. no honor among theieves. how many bcs employees ‘moonlighted’ doing design input and reviews for the very firms who were submitting plans. it goes on and on and on. after one temporary certificate of occupancy it should have been clear time to move on, resign and take another job far far away from the corrupion and insiduous goings on in facilities. to stay makes no sense. defies any logic. no one was going to change, or change anything fom top to bottom. how many years denis hermann in the dept? the mold and water intrusion lawsuits from parents never held architects responsible and liable. those local firms in the 1980′s early 1990′s got millions and millions of dollars of contracts along with the contractors. roofs leaked, deficient design, shoddy(ier) construction when the builders knew the designs were defective on paper.
    so staying past the first TCO was the beginning of your own persecution and complicity because anyone with a license forced under duress/under protest to sign off and allow a school to be occupied with hundreds of students is jeopardizing the health safety welfare of the public and in violation of the building codes. how about chool design additions with no fire sprinklers because they were (oops) overlooked during facilities internal review.
    Lesson to be learned here – walk – quickly – out the door when your job demands this complicity.

  12. Mia says:

    Is this lawyer related to former Principal Pettis?

  13. Fair representation for all says:

    @ Mia
    i believe Gene’s wife is/was a principal in the district. What of it?

    To Buddy:
    I think this article was a cheap shot. The Sbbc has been a client of Gene’s for over 20 years, starting when Gene was merely working for a firm with many many clients and this was just one of the clients whose cases he was assigned to.

    Many lawyers can’t pick their clients, especially when they work for a large firm.

    Over the years, Gene continued to represent the district in many different capacities. To attack Gene now saying he shouldn’t be Bar president because you don’t like some of the things he has defended the SB of over the years is ridiculous.

    Have you gone back and checked out all the past Bar presidents and their clients? You are implying that the Bar should only have leaders who represent the oppressed. Well, the legal profession is comprised of those who represent the accuser as well as the accused; the big company as well as the little employee, etc.

    The Bar president is the leader of all the lawyers, including the ones you don’t like because they represent the so called oppressors.

    As someone who’s known Gene and worked with Gene in several capacities for probably as long as he’s been defending the SB, I think Gene is an excellent choice for Bar President and I’m proud he will be representing me in my profession.

    And btw I’ve been someone who has had to seek justice as well as having been an attorney who worked for a large firm where I didn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing my clients.

  14. Becky Blackwood says:

    To Amazing:

    To paraphrase: Bad things happen when good people do nothing. Why do you think there has been years and years of corruption. My thought others walked away as you suggested while the few of us who stood up tried to change the system – in many cases on our own because there was no real help from the Sun Sentinel newspaper, the upper administrators, the Broward County State Attorney’s office, the State of Florida’s Inspector General’s office, the State of Florida Attorney General’s office, the Department of Education, the Department of Business and Professional Regulations. My first concern was the health, safety and welfare of the children, staff and parents. My licenses required I act in my job responsibilities the same as a fireman or policeman – would you suggest they walk away, too?

  15. John Henry says:

    “Pettis told the Bar that his goals in the coming year are continuing “the advancement of identifying a long-term, predictable source of court funding so that every Floridian will be assured access to our courts.”

    He means there will much more red-light tickets & arrests for $20 bags of weed.

  16. amazing says:

    @becky blackwood
    FlaSta481 defines role and responsibilities of architect. Signing off on numerous TCOs along with bcs chief bldg. off. at BCS is complicit. did the exec. dir. Claudia Munroe sign those TCOs as well?
    you can rationalize it anyway you want but there were no winnners in any of this, unless it was the design professionals and general contractors who were paid tens of millions of dollars of tax dollars.
    just my opinion which means nothing

  17. Mia says:

    I was just asking a question .. I remember a Principal Pettis… Why so testy???

  18. Sara Case says:

    Do we have a modern day Clarence Darrow?

  19. Becky Blackwood says:

    To Amazing:

    The only architect required to sign a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy is the Professional of Record (the project manager). Claudia Munroe did not have to sign the TCO or Certificate of Occupancy (CO). The TCO or C0 was initiate by the Professional of Record with the approval of the Facilities Project Manager. From 2002-2004 Lee Martin was Chief Building Official. Remember him, he was indicted by the Grand Jury of Miami Dade County as the Chief Building Official because he was approving permits that did not meet code. He was not procsecuted because he withdrew the permits and corrected them before anyone was injured or killed. Of course, Broward County Schools hired him, not once but twice. The first time, he withdrew his name because he was offered a job with PBS&J at over $100k a year. They let him go a year later and he became the Building Official of Broward County School. Prior to Mr. Martin, the previous building official resigned because he did not have the proper license for the job. He was on the job for less than 9 months. School Board Attorney Ed Marko was advised he did not have the proper license but stated it was acceptable but the State of Florida did not agree. When Martin was hired in 2002, there were no TCO’s. When he left in 2004, there were 35. Ron Morgan was then made Acting Building Official because he did not have a bachelor’s degree in architecture, engineering or construction only a 2 year technical degree. The School Board gave him 3 years to get one of these required bachelor’s degree. He never took a class. He applied for a State of Florida Building Code Administrators license, was able to get a provisional Building Code Administrator’s license stating he worked in a county with a population of 75,000 (we had 250,000 students at that time). He also stated he had supervised inspectors for 5 years (only 2.5 years). The Board also gave him a salary of $100k. To assist Mr. Morgan, the School Board then paid a subcontracted outside vendor $600 an hour to sign off all permits. During Ron’s tenure, the TCO numbers reached between 300-400 TCO’s with less than 15 CO’s issued from 2004-2011.

    Claudia Munroe was hired by the School Board Design Department with several other previous employees from ACAI, an architectural firm whose principal played golf with Dr. Till on the weekends. At the time she was hired she had worked on 2 schools. She was hired as a project manager and was promoted to Director of Design a year later.

    The Design staff ignored the American with Disabilities Act which required all restrooms in public schools to be ADA accessible and meet their required access and building code requirements. There were 100′s of these violations at Plantation Elementary School. At one elementary school, two restrooms were totally eliminated (also an ADA violation) rather than have a contractor and project architect revised the project drawings to correct their error when the school was finished in June and they had at least 2.5 months to correct this federal violation.

    It was not unusual to have Board members calling Facilities, directors, Associate Superintendents and Project Managers to rule in favor of their political campaign contributors.

    Facilities has never actively supported enforcing building codes nor has District Maintenance even though it is allowed by State Statute.

    As I stated, not all of the contractors and architects walked away with money they did not deserve. With the help of the Chief Auditors office, we were able to file lawsuits on several projects which returned approximately $8 million dollars to the School Board that I was a part of.

  20. Becky Blackwood says:

    To Fair Representation for All:

    If you are such a staunch supporter and believe in Mr. Pettis, why haven’t you stated your name on this blog? The client’s limitless pocketbook should not determine an attorney’s ethical conduct. Corruption in this county would not have been as successful if not for many of the practicing attorneys of this community.

    I am not saying the accusers as well as the accused are not entitled to legal defense. I am only saying lawyers need to act ethically whether they have a client with hundreds of thousands of dollars or the poor and downtrodden.

    My experience with the Florida Bar, is they only act against an attorney when there is a question of misuse of funds and that the full burden of proof lies with the accuser without the attorney having to questioned regarding their actions.

  21. Floridan says:

    “the full burden of proof lies with the accuser”

    That’s the way the system is supposed to work. People shouldn’t have to prove their innocence; rather, those alleging a crime or misdeed should have to prove their guilt.

  22. Buddy Disagrees With Sam Fields says:

    FROM BUDDY:

    Sam Fields in No. 8 says this:

    “Everyone has feet of clay. Every lawyer has shitty clients. Someone will be representing that asshole in Cleveland who kidnapped those three girls. We defend the sinner…not the sin. It’s the only way to keep the government honest.”

    First of all, wow. The language, “We defend the sinner, not the sin,” sounds more like John Hagee than Sam Fields. I never thought you, a dedicated and outspoken atheist, would resort to one the most trite expressions of TV evangelists.

    Secondly, you are confusing criminal defense work with civil cases.

    If you really wanted to keep “government honest,” you would be on the side of those lawyers fighting the abuses of government.

    Would you, Sam, have taken a job on Bush’s legal team during the 2000 recount? How about on the legal team defending the Defense of Marriage Act?

    In both civil and criminal cases, nobody…NOBODY….requires a lawyer to take a case. They choose to do so.

  23. amazing says:

    Becky Blackwood- it truly is amazing what has gone on at BCS facilities. Its clear you went above and beyond the call of duty to do it right, and do right by students and taxpayers. We know Runcie and right hand men/staff read Buddy’s blog. They will read these comments. They will know what to act on and what practices to stop. They also know a Bond vote for hundreds of millions of dollars will NEVER pass in Nov. 2014. Precisely because of the history at BCS and certainly most recent debacles of last 10 years. Your comment makes that painfully clear. Sorry you and the few colleagues who stood by you were slammed and denounced, not to mention persecution and scapegoating. And a hearty thanks to Charlotte Greenbarg and the Audit Comm head and members fought to expose.

  24. Jakeftfl says:

    Even though the “gutting” of facilities was applauded, and the outsourcing was considered a step in the right direction by the sun-sen we need to realize all this does is put greater control in the hands of the board members, the very folk the grand jury identified as the source of the problem. Murray was a big union supporter until she realized she can reap contributions from vendors seeking contracts.

    We’ve got a poll going, two years from now will see at least two board members being investigated.

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