Category Archives: Fort Myers / Lee County / Southwest Florida #SWFL

Amira Fox Cleared by Ethics Commission

State Attorney Amira Fox, who won election handily to the office vacated by retiring State Attorney Steve Russell, received some good news this afternoon. The Florida Commission on Ethics released a statement about their findings from the hearing on Monday, and found no probable cause regarding the complaint that had been filed against her in 2017, prior to the campaign for State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit.

The complaint was filed by a friend of Ms. Fox’s opponent in the race, Chris Crowley. While the Ethics Commission would not confirm that a complaint had been filed, Crowley and his friends discussed it in the media, and tried to use it as a campaign issue. The complaint alleged Ms. Fox had misused her position at the State while running for office, basically claiming she was improperly campaigning during work hours. This ruling should put any concerns to rest, as the Commission finding of no probable cause means there were not sufficient grounds to proceed.

FMPD Sued for Arresting and Tasing a Man for No Legal Reason

jones taser

Jones, about to be tased from behind

Two FMPD officers had no legal reason to arrest Holley Jones in April, 2018, but when he tried to walk away, they tasered him. The officers indicate they responded to a third-party complaint about a disorderly person, which apparently did not identify Jones. The whole incident is on body cam, and Mr. Jones is not causing a disturbance when officers come in and tell him they want to talk to him. When he declines to come outside, he tries to shake the officer’s hand, and the officer gets angry, and starts yelling at him not to touch him, pulls out his taser, and orders him outside. Jones says he did nothing wrong, and the officer says you’re real close to doing something wrong.

An officer is not allowed to detain someone, or order them around, unless he has evidence that they’ve done something wrong. Jones’ refusal to come outside isn’t improper because the officer doesn’t have evidence of a crime to have the authority to order him outside. People like to say you don’t have to consent to officers if you’ve done nothing wrong, but it results in poor Mr. Jones getting tased when he eventually runs away from the officers.

Something that’s nearly as bad as the unnecessary violence is that the officers mislead in their report to try to justify their actions. They indicate in their report that Jones did not seem to understand what they wanted him to do. The video is clear that he understood, but did not consent to following them outside or being searched. Then the officers say that when he ran back inside, he turned around in a “defensive posture with his arms raised,” and “a closed fist as if he was going to strike” the officer. The video clearly shows the officer is lying, as Jones is simply trying to evade the illegal arrest. The irony is that experienced criminal attorneys will recognize the “defensive posture” language as a phrasing that cops frequently use to justify use of force. In this case, thanks to the body-worn cameras, the truth is exposed. NBC-2 uploaded the video here, and it is somewhat graphic.

The case went to court, and on a motion to suppress, the state could not show a lawful detention, and the evidence was suppressed, leading to the case being dropped. Officers are allowed to talk to people in a consensual encounter, but they can’t just order people around who aren’t breaking the law. This should be a teaching tool, and body cams will help improve police and citizen interactions. In the meantime, this poor police work will probably lead to Mr. Jones getting paid. Not only that, they found substantial amounts of drugs on him, but he cannot be prosecuted due to the poor police work.

Attorney David Brener is Still Missing

Fort Myers attorney David Brener, who until recently was the attorney for accused Zombicon shooter Jose Bonilla, has gone missing for several months. Brener first failed to appear for a court date for a client he was representing that had been set for trial back in October, 2018. The judge issued an order to show cause, which orders the attorney to appear before the court to show why he should not be held in contempt for missing the court appearance. That order was served on him at a subsequent court date on a different case, and the hearing started on October 8, 2018. The hearing was continued to October 17, but Brener failed to appear again. According to court documents, Brener failed to appear for a third time, and the court issued a Writ of Bodily Attachment: a pickup order for law enforcement to arrest Brener and bring him before the court, and a contempt of court case was initiated against him.

brenerBrener has not been seen since those missed hearings. Since that time, several of the clients he represented have appeared in court without representation, and the court has appointed several of them attorneys, and other have retained new attorneys. Brener also failed to appear on the pending battery charge he was facing, and a new warrant has been issued in that case. FDLE lists him as a wanted person for the outstanding warrant, the last known address is vacant. Brener has also been formally suspended by the Florida Bar since November, 2018.

What’s odd about the missed court dates is that it doesn’t seem to be something that would cause someone to flee. It’s a simple contempt charge, not a sever charge. Brener was facing a felony the year before, and appeared for trial on that case in spite of facing years in prison, and he was acquitted. Brener does have another pending issue, a lawsuit alleging that he took $120,000 in legal fees to represent Mark Gaver, but did not earn the fees. Gaver is a Bonita Springs man who was prosecuted in a $50 million bank fraud scheme. Gaver was convicted at trial in Maryland and sentenced to 17 years in prison. That’s not a nice person to make angry. Also, at least one of the other Defendants that had hired Brener has expressed frustration standing in court without their lawyer, saying they had paid Brener a lot of money for their representation. Looks like all those Defendants are out of luck. No word on Brener’s whereabouts, of whether or not foul play was involved.

Alleged Cop-Killer Desmaret to be Evaluated for Competency

wisner desmaret

Wisner Desmaret

The man charged in the killing of Fort Myers police officer Adam Jobbers-Miller has been ordered to undergo a competency evaluation to determine if he is able to stand trial at this time. Wisner Desmaret will be evaluated by qualified doctors to determine whether his current mental state can support going to trial a this time. One has to be severely impaired to be found incompetent, essentially the experts would have to find that he was unable to understand the charges, the court process, or to effectively assist his attorneys in his defense. If he is found incompetent at this time, that does not mean that he can not be prosecuted, as the state can attempt to restore his competency (through medication and counseling) and he can be brought to trial if his competency is restored.

The evaluation was expected, as there have been previous questions of his competency in his previous cases. He has been found incompetent multiple times, and on one occasion, the court found that his competency was not restorable, based on expert testimony presented. However, another judge found that after restoration treatment, that his competency had been restored, which led to his release from a Sarasota county jail not long before he killed Officer Jobbers-Miller. If he is found incompetent, he will likely remain in custody until his competency is restored, at which point he will face trial for First-Degree Murder. The state has filed their intention to seek the death penalty against him.

Congrats to Amira Fox on her Primary Vicgtory

amira fox

Amira Fox

Amira Fox won the Republican primary in the race for State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit. That effectively means she will win the seat. This is a relief for everyone working in the criminal justice system in Southwest Florida, as things tend to run pretty well at the State here, and the kind of wholesale changes her opponent planned could have started chaos in our justice system. Ms. Fox was clearly the best candidate, and has the smarts and experience to do the job well.

I hope that when Ms. Fox takes over, she does look to improve some of the things about the State Attorney’s office: it would be nice to see more consistency from county to county, a reduction in jail time for non-violent crimes, especially misdemeanors like marijuana possession, and being willing to admit when a case is bad. Generally, the office has been pretty well run since Ms. Fox took over as chief assistant, and it probably will continue to be so. Ms. Fox ran a good, honest campaign and did not stoop to the dishonesty and mudslinging of her opponent. Hopefully this will show that races can be won the right way, by the best candidate. I wish her luck.

Amira Fox is the Clear Choice for State Attorney

crowley and fox

Chris Crowley and Amira Fox

The primary election is tomorrow, and Republican voters will be presented a clear choice for State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit. The standout choice is Amira Fox, currently the chief assistant State Attorney under current State Attorney Stephen Russell. Ms. Fox is a smart, talented prosecutor whose experience clearly makes her the most qualified candidate for the job. She has the support of law enforcement, including outgoing prosecutor Russell, and the sheriffs of all five counties in the 20th Judicial Circuit. Moreover, she has the overwhelming support of the attorneys who practice in Lee County, who are in the best position to evaluate the qualifications of the chief law enforcement officer for Southwest Florida.

The campaign leading up to the primary, which will be dispositive as there is only a token write-in candidate remaining in the general election, has been extremely heated. Her opponent, Christopher Crowley has attacked her with deceit and obfuscation because his actual qualifications are woefully lacking. Crowley is a twice-failed prosecutor who cannot gain the support of law enforcement.

Crowley was asked to resign from the office of the Statewide Prosecutor after detectives informed his supervisor that they did not have faith in his abilities as a prosecutor. He returned the the State Attorney’s office, where he was soon fired for incompetence. Crowley then demonstrated his stunningly poor judgment by illegally promoting a raffle at a campaign fund raising event. He then posted video of the criminal act on his Facebook page, which ultimately resulted in his felony arrest for the illegal lottery and illegal campaign fundraising. Crowley had to get a retired democrat attorney to represent him, because he has so much trouble finding a defense attorney. His attorney did a great job by getting him into the felony diversion program after he admitted to his wrongdoing. While the charge may have been an inadvertent infraction that did not involve much money, the lack of oversight and judgment demonstrate that Crowley cannot be trusted run the State Attorney’s Office.

Crowley has tried to mislead the electorate to distract from his lack of qualifications. One of his favorite claims is that the office is corrupt- basically accusing Ms. Fox of ordering his arrest. This is patently false, as the local State Attorney’s office notified the governor of the possible conflict, and the State Attorney for the 10th Circuit handled the case. If Crowley is suggesting corruption, he is accusing Governor Scott and multiple law enforcement agencies. This is not a case of corruption: incompetent Crowley committed a felony, published the evidence, and got charged by an independent prosecutor. He does not deserve to be the chief law enforcement officer for our circuit.

Another of his other favorite claims is that the conviction rate in our circuit is only 39%. He fabricated this number based on raw arrest numbers and actual adjudications. However, this number does not take into account charges that are not filed, nor does it take into account cases that are resolved in drug court, mental health court, or other positive dispositions. Ironically, Crowley’s own arrest and diversion program would count against his calculation of a conviction rate. The more appropriate number is calculated by the Office of the State Courts Administrator, and it’s 88% for this circuit, in line with other circuits. And the more important number, the crime rate, is the lowest of all the circuits in Florida. Some of the other claims being promoted by Crowley’s supporters, and often shared by him on social media, are unsupported, untrue, and not worth repeating.

Finally, as a criminal law attorney in town, I have had the opportunity to work with both candidates, and I can say without hesitation that Ms. Fox is more competent, better prepared, and a better attorney that Mr. Crowley. I do not have a dog in the fight and I have not donated to either candidate, but I can say experience has demonstrated that Ms. Fox is the best candidate for the job, and Mr. Crowley could be a train wreck if he were to win.

The choice for voters tomorrow is between an extremely experienced, qualified, and highly recommended candidate in Amira Fox, or a failed prosecutor in Chris Crowley. Crowley failed to lawfully conduct his campaign, and now wants to oversee law enforcement across Southwest Florida. And to do so, he is running a deceitful campaign. He is unqualified, he does not have the support of law enforcement, nor does he have the the competence for the job. The choice is clear, Amira Fox is the best candidate for State Attorney.

James Chandler is the Choice for Circuit Judge

james chandler

James Chandler

As early voting gets underway in the 5 county 20th judicial circuit, which includes Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry, and Glades counties, I though I’d take an opportunity to weigh in on a local race that I feel strongly about. I am writing to endorse James Chandler, who is running for Circuit Judge. I have gotten to know Mr. Chandler well over the last several years, and think he would be an excellent choice for the circuit judge position. Mr. Chandler and I both worked at the State Attorney’s office when we moved to Southwest Florida. After I went into private practice, I had cases against Mr. Chandler and found him to be fair as a prosecutor.

Chandler later went into private practice, where he handles not only criminal defense, but also civil matters such as family law. That’s important, as our circuit judges can end up handling both criminal and civil cases: Mr. Chandler has the background to handle both. Mr. Chandler is someone that I would frequently discuss my criminal cases with, for strategies and legal insight, and I feel Mr. Chandler understands the and will protect the rights and fairly adjudicate the cases of all who would appear before him. He has shown himself to be a skilled courtroom attorney, including a high-profile case we covered here in Crimcourts. Mr. Chandler has the experience, temperament, and the intangibles to be an excellent judge, and I fully endorse him for Circuit Judge.