News Section: Election 2012
Database Queries Raise More Questions in State Attorney Race
BRADENTON – State Attorney candidate John Torraco's name was run through the state's DAVID system five times in a four-month period by an employee of the State Attorney's office for the 12th Circuit, where his opponent serves as chief deputy. It wasn't related to a criminal case or for any other purpose for which the office would be authorized to use the criminal records database. In fact, the office hasn't been able to say just why the queries were made. Torraco suspects that it could have been a politically motivated effort to look for potentially damaging records, which would be a violation of state law.
State records show that two queries were made on August 23rd of last year, followed by two more that November, as well as another the next month. On March 15th of this year, one more was made, followed six minutes later by a DAVID query on Torraco originated within the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, which is within the 12th Judicial Circuit. Brodsky declined to comment personally, saying that the office's Executive Director, Jennifer Moran, was handling all questions on the matter.
When reached, Moran said that she had investigated the queries once a complaint had been made and discovered that the first five that were made in 2011 were initiated by an employee who had since left the office. Moran said that she did not feel that the queries were political in nature, or had anything to do with the race. However, while she did speak with the former employee, Moran said that she was unable to ascertain why the inquires were made and could only say that Torraco's record was not altered or tampered with in any way. Moran said that the query run this March was by a different employee who said she'd “heard Torraco was running and wanted to see what he looked like.” Moran said that employee had since been reprimanded. When asked if she coordinated with SCSO to investigate whether the two queries on March 15th, made six minutes apart by agencies that routinely work together were in any way related, she confirmed she had not.
The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office has dismissed the March 15 inquiry originated by one of its employees, though they too were unable to explain why Torraco's record had been accessed. SCSO Spokeswoman Wendy Rose said that the query was made by an employee stationed at the courthouse who routinely utilized the system for a variety of purposes related to their post. When asked what some of those reasons might be, Ms. Rose explained that DAVID is used at the site for such things as verifying identification for a security purpose, or at the request of an officer of the court when related to a proceeding, or even if there is a suspicious vehicle on the grounds. She acknowledged that none of the example reasons she gave were the case with Mr. Torraco and said that the employee who accessed his record could not remember why they did so. When asked by what means the department was then certain that the query was legitimate, she said that they had reviewed the DAVID pulls by that employee over a period of several months and didn't see anything that they felt was "irregular."
Misuse of the state's law enforcement database is illegal and employees with access to it are trained extensively on the parameters of its use. In 2010, it cost a Sarasota police officer her job after it was discovered that she had accessed the DAVID record of someone who had had an altercation with one of her family members. The person whose record was pulled was then assaulted in a home invasion. It was later learned that the family member had passed along that address to the person charged with the crime. Just this August, State Attorney Robert “Skip" Jarvis of Live Oak, dropped out of his reelection race as part of a deal to avoid charges after a former employee revealed that Jarvis had used the system to research political opponents and others without proper cause.
No evidence has been uncovered thus far to link Brodsky to the queries, or suggest that he directed them. But Torraco points out that it's Brodsky's own office that is responsible for such investigations. Jarvis, a Democrat, was investigated by a Republican state attorney from another district, who had been appointed by Governor Rick Scott, possibly paving the way for a Republican state attorney to win that district, and raising the question of whether the fact that Torraco is a Democrat makes a vigorous outside investigation less likely.
Torraco also says that previous involvement by Brodsky in the handling of an investigation into primary opponent Pete Lombardo casts further suspicions. Lombardo and his wife were arrested in May 2010 on charges of running an unlicensed assisted living facility, shortly after it became known that Lombardo would be seeking the Republican nomination for the office to which Brodsky had been seen as heir apparent.
Brodsky has pointed out that the investigation was initiated by the state Attorney General's office, who ultimately filed the charges. Lombardo cites an email from the AG's investigator to Brodsky, which began, “I know you want to focus on Mr. Lombardo's participation in the care of the residents,” before detailing a strategy she felt could serve those ends, as proof that the investigation was being influenced by Brodsky for political purposes. The charges were thrown out when the case was moved to another circuit.
Brodsky has also come under fire as of late on accusations that he is politicizing the office, while unfairly, and perhaps illegally, using his position to affect his chances of winning the election. Direct mail pieces sent out by the campaign display both sitting members of the judiciary and Florida's state seal behind Brodsky in the court room, both of which could be interpreted as violations of state statutes. The judge in question, Deborah Riva, asked in a letter to be taken off the campaign material in order to prevent her impartiality from being questioned. In the photo, Riva is just behind Brodsky, at the bench and visibly wearing her judge's robe. It is unclear that it is a courtroom photo and not a staged campaign shot. Brodsky declined to stop using the photo in his ads even after Riva's request.
One 12th circuit judge has already requested reassignment after an email to Brodsky became public during the Republican primary. In April of 2011, Circuit Judge Janette Dunnigan emailed Sarasota County Court Administrator Walt Smith from her state computer and email account to his, asking that he pass on a message to Brodsky that Ed Chiles (local restaurateur and son of former Florida Governor Lawton Chiles) would support him in the state attorney race, and even fundraise for him. Dunnigan suggested in the email that Brodsky meet with Chiles, if he hadn't already, and to mention her name when he called (see full email below).
Smith forwarded the message to Brodsky. Brodsky then forwarded it to himself at a Manatee County email address. The emails were clearly election-related communications, all of which were sent from state computers, to state and county accounts, on state-employed time, which would seem to violate multiple state statutes and code of ethics canons regarding use of a state official's authority or influence to sway an election or solicit support. Once the email got out, defense attorneys began asking that Dunnigan recuse herself from cases because of the perceived bias. After seven such occasions, Dunnigan requested to be reassigned and was moved to civil court. Brodsky has called the matter a “non-issue.”
editor's note: this article was originally published before the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office could be contacted for comment and has been updated to reflect their input. The previous version also incorrectly stated that the suspect in the home invasion related to the illegal DAVID inquiry in Sarasota was the family member who had been given the information, when it was in fact another individual whom that family member passed it along to.