How the Ana Gardiner Case Came "to Light"

tdbankprotest.jpg
Union protesters outside TD Bank in Miami, where they handed out Scott Rothstein fliers that ask "What Other Illegal Activity Are They Capable Of?" (More on this after the jump).

[UPDATED: Just learned from a JAABlog post that a typically weak and negligent Florida Bar investigation regarding the Ana Gardiner case was closed on Howard Scheinberg by bar attorney and grievance committee member Steven J. Hammer. JAABlog reports that Hammer is a "onetime close friend and confidante" of Judge Gardiner. But there's more. Gardiner's "best friend," according to her own testimony, is lobbyist Aleida "Ali" Waldman. Steve Hammer has long had his law office at 440 S. Andrews Ave. Who owns 440 S. Andrews Ave.? Why, a corporation owned by Ali Waldman, of course. To recap: The bar investigation was closed by a onetime Gardiner buddy who is also a tenant of the judge's best friend. And you wonder why there's no justice coming from the Florida Bar?]  

Here's how the Sun-Sentinel describes how the story regarding Broward Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner that has led to official charges against her became public.

 "Broward prosecutor and Sunrise City Commissioner Sheila Alu, who dined with Gardiner and [former prosecutor Howard] Scheinberg at Timpano's, first brought the judge's alleged misconduct to light."

Wrong. It was New Times that first brought it "to light." Yes, Alu was a key source for the story, but it was this newspaper that brought it to public attention. No surprise here it's basically become an unwritten editorial policy for the Sentinel not to cite or link this blog. Which is understandable. Rothstein, Gardiner, Capellini, Wasserstrom, Gallagher, Eggelletion, Kraft, Ritter, the FBI investigation -- all that and a whole lot more was reported here first. It would be embarrassing to mention it all the time, don't you think?

But the newspaper, although technically wrong, is dead-right that Alu deserves the credit. After she witnessed Gardiner and Scheinberg talking about a first-degree murder trial, she was naturally reluctant to bring it to public attention. As she wrote in her affidavit after my story appeared, "As a law student [at the time] with the hope of becoming an Assistant State Attorney, I was afraid of

making their ex-parte discussion public..." But she couldn't shake her outrage. Later in the affidavit, Alu wrote, "I still felt sickened by the whole experience, as I have always believed that a defendant regardless of the crime has a constitutional right to a fair trial and an unbiased tribunal... knowing this information and not coming forward ate at me."

I know that it ate at her, because Alu told me about it in late 2007 while I was reporting on other matters. She initially told me off the record, with plenty of outrage in her voice, and I was stunned to hear about it. Not only did it violate nearly sacred judicial canons; I realized this was every defendant's worst nightmare. Imagine: The judge and the prosecutor socializing and laughing about your case during your trial. That it was a death penalty case just made it more egregious.

Obviously, I felt it had to be made public but couldn't report it without independent corroboration that was seemingly impossible to get. When Alu was hired as a prosecutor by State Attorney Michael Satz in January 2008, she informed Satz of the ex parte communication between Alu and Scheinberg, who at the time was one of Satz's top prosecutors. Satz told Alu to call the Florida Bar ethics hotline to see if she needed to report it. The Florida Bar told her she had no obligation to report it because she wasn't a lawyer at the time that she heard the conversation. And that was that. 

Nobody was going to do anything about it in the "look the other way" culture at the Broward Courthouse (see the update above). About that time, I began reporting on other Gardiner-related stories after the judge -- who was then the chief criminal judge in Broward -- wrecked her car on Super Bowl Sunday while apparently spying on a boyfriend whose name was Howard (amazingly it still isn't known if that boyfriend was Howard Scheinberg). And I kept trying to persuade Alu to go public. In the end, she did so with a phone message on my answering machine: "OK, I thought about it. I'm ready to give you my quote and what I want to say about Ana Gardiner, and you can use my name," she said. "I realize by speaking out to the press about this incident... it could lead some people from the legal community to shun me or potentially blackball me, but I became a lawyer to seek justice... I still believe in a defendant's right to a fair trial. I feel the public has a right to know."

TD bank protesters.
It was a courageous act, and it has indeed led to plenty of shunning from some in the courthouse crowd (for more background on the case, click here). I don't think any other elected official in Broward County would have had the same courage. Not one. And now Alu, in my opinion, has done more than any other elected official in Broward history to fight corruption (let's not forget about her groundbreaking work with the FBI). Not a bad legacy to have.  

-- In other news, the TD Bank branch is being picketed by protesters whose rallying cry can be reduced to one word: Rothstein.

Members of the Florida Carpenters Regional Counsel are organizing the protest because, according to a union rep, they feel the public needs to know TD Bank's role in the Ponzi scheme. The union has done its banking at TD in the past as well.

Here's a copy of the flier protesters are handing out, which includes a photograph of Rothstein and quotes from the Scherer civil lawsuit. 

Click here to see the flyer. (Special thanks to Whiskey for My Men Beer for My Horses for the photos and flier).   

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