This is a blast from the past. The Miami Dade State Attorneys class of 1982. There were some young lawyers in this class who would go on to be legal legends. Send in who you recognize and a war story or two and we will post it. The easy one is the chap front and center with an electric smile. Hint- he finished his career like others in this class with the Feds.
|Photo Courtesy of an alert reader who got it from someone else we are told|
Miami in 1982 was emerging from being a sleepy southern town and drugs were the reason. Take a look at any of the buildings on Brickell and rest assured they were funded with drug money because the banks in Miami were awash in cash. They had billons more in deposits, made in cash, to loan. And up went Brickell.
Miami had a new State Attorney- Janet Reno, four years into the job in 1982 and finding her feet. Miami and the Miami Dade SAO were facing a blizzard of drug cases and drug related murders, many courtesy of Griselda Blanco, whose story is marvelously told by Miami Producer (and cohort with Mr. Markus on his podcast) Billy Corbin.
Miami had the most murders. Miami had the most drugs. Miami had the most cash, and into this breach stepped this young crew of eager prosecutors. Their starting salary was NOT above $20,000. 00 a year and they were facing off against experienced trial lawyers who were charging $50,000.00 and $100,000 a case and had more cases than they could handle.
In those days it was not unusual for a new prosecutor to be trying drug cases and drug murders within the first year, or shortly thereafter. The turnover in the office was huge- the money the dark side of the force would provide was irresistible to some: one case was a house for a young lawyer and his family. A second case would pay off school loans. A third case would be savings for college for children.
But many of these young guns resisted the lure. They stuck to their guns and their own morals. They had a leader who backed them and whom they idolized. And they fought the good fight.
Did you know that back then the Miami SAO had no personnel office? Janet's secretary seemed to handle a lot of the issues, or a prosecutor might be sent to speak with ASA Shay Bilchik. No human resources office hanging over a prosecutor's head ready to fire them for an intemperate sexist remark in an email. There was no email. There were no word processors. The SAO had a typist section and prosecutors could call in and dictate motions on a recording that were then transcribed. You got your document in a gray or yellow "inter-office memo" envelope. Above your name on that envelope might be the names of Abe Laeser, George Yoss, Ed O' Donnell senior, Janet Reno, head of appeals Richard Shiffrin, Hank Adorno, and a host of other prosecutors who were or became legends.
At the time there may have been three or four minimum mandatory sentences. One for drugs and drug trafficking. One for guns, one for sexual battery on a minor, and of course a 25 year min man for first degree murder. There were guidelines that actually were enforced. We seem to remember that a GL sentence for second degree murder was 12-17. Of course now, if your client thinks about a murder, there is a mandatory life sentence. Now there is no legal distinction for punishment for a second degree murder bar fight. Now twenty-five year old prosecutors are more entrusted to make correct legal sentencing decisions than fifty-five year old judges.
And of course, on the other side was a new generation of PDS, the office having been injected a decade earlier with the energy and enthusiasm to try cases by young PDs Roy Black, H.T. Smith, and Jack Denaro. Did you know the SAO and the PDS and a law library were all in the REGJB? (As the Captain correctly points out, the courthouse was called the Metro Justice Building. The REG stands for Richard E Gerstein, the State Attorney before Janet Reno. It was not unusual if you were in the courthouse to see a tall, imposing man walking the hallways with some other lawyers and a client who had paid a lot of money, That was Mr. Gerstein. And political power being what it was, it was entirely possible his mere presence would cause a judge to find an issue previously unseen and dismiss the case, sometimes without being asked!)
County Court was in the front of the courthouse on the first floor, where courts with numbers beginning with "1" now are. The SAO Main office was on six. As you got off the up escalator, there was a "fishbowl" to your left with a receptionist. Behind her was an area for the public to sit while the ASA was called. The courtrooms and hallways behind them now there were non-existent. Narcotics, appeals, and public corruption were on nine. The PDs were on eight (or was it seven?) . You didn't have email or cell phones, but you could take the stairs and have a sit-down with your counterpart and work some cases out. And you just might see Janet Reno in the stairwell. That is how she got her exercise. Sometimes she took a sleeping bag to her office and slept over night to work on the weekends reviewing dispositions and charging decisions and whether to ok an appeal.
There wasn't homicide duty- there was "beeper duty". And the beeper at first was some marvel that transmitted a radio call from the police dispatcher telling a prosecutor, complete with static, to call a number. A prosecutor would carry a roll of dimes and find a payphone if they were out and about and received a message to call a detective. (For more about what a "payphone" was, younger judges can click here).
Want to win a DV case in 1982? Just tell the judge that the woman in the court with the black eye is married to the defendant. And the white, male judge dismissed it 98% of the time.
The Fourth Amendment mattered. Motions to suppress were granted. Judges didn't fear the Herald on a case. Sentences were reasonable, unless you went before Morphonious and lost a case. Then your client couldn't count that high, but even so, they were out maybe in twenty, maybe in less.
The name of the institution serving food on the first floor- Cozzoli's (not Casolas) and yes, you could smoke inside the restaurant.
There are so many more memories we are missing but we know our readers will fill in the blanks. And send us your SAO or PD class pictures and lets have some fun.