Friendly Fire

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle should have coasted to election victory. Instead she's dodging bullets from the police unions in the political fight of her life.

For his part Rodriguez says that while he knows Rivera, he did not speak to the PBA boss before making this decision. “We think Milian brings much more to the table,” Rodriguez reports. “She's been there seven or eight years and has done a job that is not at all satisfactory. Because of her policies, we have a tremendous lack of teamwork between police and prosecutors.” Rodriguez cites the same reasons as Rivera: the number of dropped prosecutions and an apparent unwillingness to pursue tough or complicated cases.

Rundle's streak of bad publicity didn't let up. Shortly after the Miami FOP pulled its endorsement, a Miami-Dade Police Department detective called Rundle and told her Seth Gordon, her campaign strategist, was the prime suspect in the 25-year-old murder of his own wife. No charges have ever been filed in the case, and no new evidence has been developed over the years. The investigative file remains closed to the public, but it was reviewed by the Secret Service in the late Seventies when Gordon was asked to head Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign in Florida. Its contents didn't disqualify him from that position, nor for a later position as an executive assistant in Florida Attorney General Bob Shevin's administration.

Someone leaked to the Herald news of the detective's call to Rundle. In the wake of the ensuing publicity, Gordon quit.

Rundle confers with Miami police officers during a training session
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Rundle confers with Miami police officers during a training session

By late September Milian's mug was plastered on posters and billboards all over the county. The accompanying message: Milian was the candidate supported by police. Rundle's campaign workers pegged the cost at nearly $100,000. But Rivera says volunteers worked to put up the posters for free and that he received permission to use billboards abandoned by candidates after the primary season. “In all,” Rivera offers, “I want to say we spent about $25,000.”

As a countermeasure at least one police chief has been vocally supporting Rundle. North Miami Beach Police Chief Bill Berger says the PBA's tactics in the campaign have unnerved him. “Definitely it appears [Rivera's] motives are vengeance, and I'm real concerned about that. I think Kathy has great ethics and credibility. I like Mr. Milian. He's a very sharp man. But he doesn't have the experience. This is not a job you can cut your teeth on and learn as you go along.”

Polls taken by Schroth and Associates show Rundle with a decisive lead. Rob Schroth terms it nearly insurmountable. “Her job-performance rating came in at 63 percent,” Schroth says. “Generally that means you lack any vulnerability. I've been in this business a long time, and I've never seen anyone come from that far behind. Right now there does not exist a valid rationale to fire her and hire Alberto Milian, a relative unknown with a checkered past.”

John Rivera laughs when told this. He says the Schroth poll was taken in the early summer, before Milian began campaigning. He is still predicting “the greatest upset in Dade County history!”

But even if Rundle wins, as expected, it won't mean police union opposition will disappear. “If Kathy is fortunate enough to win,” Rivera vows, “she's going to have to learn she can't do business as usual. Listen, she needs us as much as we need her. When we work in harmony, everyone benefits. When we don't, the public suffers.”

How will the public suffer? “If police officers don't trust or believe in the prosecutor, they may not make as many cases or work as hard on them,” says Richard Sharpstein, a criminal defense attorney whose loyalties are split. Sharpstein does a lot of work for the PBA but is a Rundle backer. “If Kathy wins she'll need to hold a peace conference. Cops and prosecutors are a team; they're Batman and Robin. Without good relations there's a definite impact.”

Understandably Rundle refuses to look past the election itself. “We can do a better job selling ourselves,” she insists. “We're not, as an office, good salespeople. That's why I'm looking forward to this election, so I can talk about my record. We've all fallen for this trick of focusing on public corruption, but the larger issue is: We took this county from paradise lost to paradise found.”

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