The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on March 27, 1998 · Page 9
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March 27, 1998

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 9

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Friday, March 27, 1998
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THE PALM BEACH POST FRIDAY, MARCH 27, 1998 9A u i xy lU'Jiiipiiiy urn im.m i w m It was, after all, a cheesy defense - -w r f r f Frank Cerabino Commentary V o E.A. KENNEDY IllStaff Photographer Phil Butler's campaign treasurer, Maury Schiowitz, and members of Butler's family hear the guilty verdicts on Thursday. Krischer says he'll push to strengthen, penalties Butler could help him if he were elected Palm Beach County State Attorney. Butler had argued that "even a blind man could see there was nothing I could do for that man." But testimony from Baber, his family members and one of his defense lawyers contradicted that. C'mon, jurors. Rise and shine. Wake up and smell the bribery. They had just begun the day Thursday, re-listening to the testimony of defense lawyer David Roth, who had hung Butler out to dry by testifying: "I do recall (Baber) telling me that if Mr. Butler was elected, (Baber) would be given extreme leniency." Ding-dong. Conviction calling. And still, the jurors went back in their room to talk about it some more, and wonder whether Larry would give Moe $500,000 if he didn't believe Moe could bail him out of the mess he was in. It was about 1 p.m. And then the magic pizza arrived. - The pepperoni perpetrator I don't know what was in that pizza, but . I think Butler should scrap that trial-by-ambush nonsense and begin investigating pizza improprieties. Consider the evidence. ,? Before pizza arrived, the jurors asked for permission to not rule on the bribery charges. The judge even told them in a note that he had decided to release them without arriving at a verdict on all the charges. " - . . Then, the pizza arrived. The jurors eat the pizza and announce they have a verdict. The verdict was guilty on all charges, !: The pizza had moved them. V . Investigate the pizza, Phil. ; '. I believe there may be rich appellate issues encrusted in the mozzarella. ; My own theory is that some enterprising citizen intercepted the delivery guy and delivered , a message with the pizza, a message that cleared up lingering doubts by some jurors. , .. . " : , Check it out, Phil. " , - : It may have been as simple as spelling "guilty" with pepperoni rings. The pizza did it. The pizza lunch delivered to the Phil Butler jury on Thursday did the trick. - Before the pizza arrived, I was losing hope that this jury would ever arrive at a decision on this slam-dunk of a bribery case. The six jurors had already been locked up together for 10 hours over two days, and they still couldn't agree that state attorney candidate Butler committed bribery when he accepted $500,000 in secret campaign contributions from a former friend looking to dodge a prison stretch. Pardon me, but this was sub-Kojak material. Columbo would have been done with it before the first commercial break. This wasn't some labyrinthine Mission Impossible plot the jurors had to unravel. This was the Three Stooges. Butler (Moe, the short foul-mouthed guy) was taking illegal cash from chronically charged drunk driver Jim Baber (think Larry in a toupee) with the help of Shemp (the irrepressibly buffoonish sidekick, Ted Brabham). Deliberations, I figured, might go a couple hours tops, that is, if the jurors really wanted to milk it, and perhaps use their time to swap childhood tides. , After all, Butler didn't even put on a real defense. From the start, Butler was playing this case as if conviction at the trial was a given. He appeared to be just hoping to make enough points to win an appeal. The most deliberate deliberations Butler, an experienced criminal defense lawyer well-versed in appellate law, ignored one of the cardinal rules of litiga-. tion by representing himself at trial. , ' I suspect that's because he was conceding the verdict, but making sure that he didn't miss any opportunity to explore procedural objections that could be become fodder for a later appeal, j What was his main defense? That he wasn't ready for trial. Trial by ambush, he called it. That's a defense for an appellate judge, not a trial jury. His closing' argument VERDICT '. For the latest coverage, go to Palm Beach Interactive: www.GoPBI.com sounded more like the first draft of his appellate brief. Imagine if he put on a real defense? The jury might have actually had something to deliberate. They'd probably still be locked away behind closed doors. The jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon. Surely, they'd have a verdict by dinner time, I thought. On another floor, a jury took about four hours to decide a murder case. Certainly, The Three Stooges wouldn't go longer than life and death. , At about 6 p.m., Wednesday, there was action from the jury room. A verdict? No, they wanted menus. They ate heartily. Certainly they'll reach a verdict by 9:30 p.m., I thought, as the courthouse became a conclave of cleaning crews. The gracious feeding, though, didn't sharpen the jurors' consensus-building skills. They adjourned for the night without reaching a verdict. Thursday morning came and went without a verdict, too. The prosecutor, Cass Castillo, began to take on the stricken look of a man who had inadvertently swallowed a live mullet. The jury was flirting with the idea of not reaching a verdict on the heart of the case the bribery and conspiracy charges. Just before lunch, jurors sent out a note to the judge. The note said they had arrived at verdicts on the misdemeanor campaign violation charges, but couldn't arrive at a unanimous verdict on the bribery issue, Butler said. The jurors were hung up on the legal definition of bribery, particularly the element that required Baber to "believe" that of property and a trip to Las Vegas that'.also jibed with the dates of the deposits. Brabham's role in the scheme was to run as an independent and split the vote, assuring Sutler's victory. But he ; was ,"sitnply greedy," Castillo '. said. V, . ' White most of the evidence and accusations revealed during the, trial had been known for months, a plot to burglarize ; Brabham's law office and blame the heist on Butler's rival, State Attorney Barry Krischer, surprised some observers and Krischer. "I just never believed they would go that far," Krischer said after the verdicts Thursday. The really scary thing is, what if they had puljed it off?" According to Baber's testimony; Butler, wearing a mask, was to, break through the firm's back door with an ax, while Brabham, the getaway driver, if m iii (id ii ih waited in a car. Brabham's attor jl (it) If v it ney Joseph Farish, called the burrfarv plot a "cock and bull I ft IL story! r do 118 X 111) (0) i r,, However, Brabham's former law partner, Randall Henley, testified that when he returned from vacation in July 1996 a metal door in the back of the firm's office had (loll M T K IE U , been beaten in and a lock needed to be replaced. ';"" Automatic suspension f I I 1 : ' Castillo said on Thursday that Henley's former secretary has al Oct 0 ) so confirmed the story of the damaged door and lock, saying From 1A Baber agreed that Butler had told him that he would have to get off his case but said that Butler told him he would have a special prosecutor appointed who would follow Butler's instructions. Then, the case would be assigned to a judge who owed Butler a favor and would be lost in the shuffle, Baber said, Baber, president of Badcock Economy Furniture, was facing 19 years in prison for killing a . man in a 1995 drunken driving crash. After Butler lost the election Baber came forward to officials with the scheme. Butler And his campaign manager, V. Ted Brabham, were both arrested and charged with bribery, conspiracy : and accepting excessive contrii buttons. Brabham's trial is to be- gin Monday. , O Lawyer's testimony repeated .' The jury asked numerous questions, including whether it would be all right if they returned verdicts on some charges but could not reach unanimous verdicts on others. After deliberating until about 9 p.m. on Wednesday, the jurors returned Thursday morning and asked to have lawyer David Roth's testimony read to them.' t . , .' Roth also represented Baber on his DUI manslaughter case, and contacted prosecutors after Baber told him about the illegal contributions to Butler.' in his testimony Roth repeatedly1 ad- mitted that Baber knew Butler could not remain on his case if he had been elected. : Exactly what Baber believed about Butler's abilities became : the focus of the lengthy deliberations, one juror said. An element of bribery requires that the person paying the bribe believes that the person accepting the bribe has the power to make good on the promise. Butler argued that there was no way of knowing what was in Baber's mind and that he had repeatedly told Baber that he would have to get off his case if elected. : ."What it came down to was if James Baber believed he would benefit from his contributions to Butler," the juror said. Mom impressed jurors As for Baber's testimony, the jurors did question his credibility. However, "we had no reason not to believe his family," the juror said, referring to the testimony of Baber's sister, Jan Baber Paras-mo, and Baber's mother, Evelyn. Evelyn Baber, in particular had endeared herself to the jury , apologizing for her tennis ap- pare at one appearance and asking, "Can ya'll hear me?" with her hoarse voice. The jury also spent time considering the role of Brabham. Assistant State Attorney Cass Castillo, a special prosecutor from Bartow, showed the jury Brabham's bank records, with deposits corresponding to the dates Baber said he gave Brabham money. Castillo also showed the jury checks for a boat, a trailer, a piece she reported the damage to Brabham on a Friday evening but Brabham told her to wait until Monday to take care of it. Butler's felony conviction means an automatic three-year suspension trom practicing law, said Kevin Tynan, branch staff attorney with the Honda Bar. The Bar also could seek disbarment Tynan said the Bar will re ; - y f - view court records ot Butler s conviction after he is sentenced. There also is a pending investigation by the Florida Elections Commission. "I think the case demonstrates the real need for true campaign reform," Krischer said. "The way the statute reads now, there's no difference between accepting $550 or $500,000 in illegal contributions. They're both a misdemeanor." Krischer said he would propose punishments similar to those in theft cases: "The more you take, the higher the penalty." Although the campaign finance charges are misdemeanors, there is a provision in the law that permits a civil penalty for three times the amount of the illegal contribution. In Butler's case, that could be $1.5 million. Krischer said Brabham is hoping to avoid his trial with a plea, bargain. Farish said there will be no plea bargain. "Flea, we've not discussed that at all," Farish said after learning of Butler's guilty verdicts on Thursday. "Ted's a fighter, you know. He wants to go all the way." GRAND OPENING CELEBRATION j For Coastal Cruises (J?" including cruise k line service charge f T s I GRAND OPENING SAILING SCHEDULE Dispute is over who will pay debts Fridjy 11:30PM 330AM Saturday 930AM 3.-OOPM 430PM - 10.-OOPM 1130PM 330AM Sunday ItiOPM 7O0PM HOSPITAL . - - i 1 they proved their commitment to Everglades, which has more than 300 employees, when they lent $650,000 three months ago. At a. meeting Wednesday, they saidit was the hospital managers' turn to prove theirs. "We want to take over the op eration of the hospital, but we don't want to take over all their obligations," Bennett said Thursday. After seven years of fighting in court for control of Everglades, both sides now say they want the health district to take over the hospital. The dispute's over who should pay its mounting debts. Palm Beach Post staff uriter Mary Wurrjcka contributed to tfiis report From 1A pital's lead lawyer, Terry Watter-son, the board will shutter Paho-kee's largest year-round employer, gather the hospital's assets and pay creditors what they can though both suggested there was still room for the health district to step in. The board kept trying to find another reason why they could stay on another day, another week, despite reports that we cant," said Watterson. adding that health district officials "need to get about showing what their ral commitment is." But district otficials contend

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