Letters from the Issue of March 11, 2004

Art and ethnicity and cops with nothing better to do

No Time for the Whine

Professional protesters like Bork need to get a job -- and a life: As long as Kirk Nielsen is the acting head of the Jamie "Bork" Loughner Fan Club, perhaps he can enlighten everyone as to what this professional complainer does for a living ("No Rest for the Weary Agitator," March 4). Why does it seem that most folks "well known in activist circles" piss and moan for a living? I'd love to see what would happen if they ever did a hard day's work.

While I'm all for the right of any productive citizen to protest any subject he or she feels strongly about, people who protest for a living seem like maladjusted social misfits who majored in Marxism. And no, Mr. Nielsen, I'm not impressed with anything they do. There are far too many good people, working hard for little money, to leave room for my heart to pump purple over a 39-year-old whiner with no answers but plenty of rhetoric.

Glenn Suarez

South Miami

Art and Ethnicity

Yes, he appears to be the most qualified candidate in the entire universe but -- oops! -- sorry: Congratulations to Brett Sokol for exposing Miami Beach Commissioner Matti Herrera Bower for what she is -- a racist ("Culture Snob Alert," February 26). In addition to Marlo Cáder-Frech and Alan Randolph, both highly qualified to serve on the city's Cultural Arts Council, she also chose to ignore another individual of impeccable credentials.

Barry Oliver Chase is an attorney specializing in intellectual property and entertainment, represents numerous Hispanic artists, and speaks Spanish. Chase is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School and, before moving to Florida from Washington, D.C., he was vice president for programming at PBS, where he was responsible for a host of national cultural initiatives, including a Civil War documentary, the series Dance, and the establishment of the Frontline documentary series, among other projects. All of this was obviously of no interest to Bower -- because Chase is not Cuban.

It is truly a shame that, in this new millennium, we have an elected official who still tries to divide a city solely on the basis of ethnicity.

Juliet Barnes

Miami Beach

Make Art, Not War

Me? I'm a pacifist with conscientious objections: Brett Sokol was looking for a story about the concern expressed in the past few weeks by some people within the Miami Beach community over the recent appointment of three candidates by Commissioner Matti Bower to the Cultural Arts Council. He called me twice and I spent more than an hour talking to him about important issues we're facing in Miami Beach. I explained that decreased funding, along with improving the advocacy role of the Cultural Arts Council, are the important issues for arts organizations. It is unfortunate that he used my words out of context and in a way that fueled his inflammatory article.

I did not agree with the method by which the three individuals were appointed to the CAC, but my comments referred to process and procedure, not to the appointees or the commissioner who appointed them. It is simple: If the City of Miami Beach has a process for the selection of Cultural Arts Council members, then all candidates should be required to go through that process, not just some of them. Otherwise the integrity of the procedure is compromised.

Mr. Sokol's article made it appear as though I am personally ready to "go to war" over the issue of these appointments by Commissioner Bower. I am not. I don't believe in war, and I wasn't making a frivolous remark. I said that it appeared to me, based on comments I've heard, that "people seemed ready to go to war over this." It was an observation about the intensity with which many members of the arts community were reacting -- not an expression of my feelings, my opinion, or my plan of action.

I spoke with respect and accuracy, and I would have hoped Mr. Sokol could have reported the same way.

Beth Boone, artistic and executive director

Miami Light Project

Miami

Brett Sokol replies: Beth Boone's letter restates her comments as accurately published in my column: "I think people want to go to war over this, because oftentimes Miami Beach doesn't act like a big city. It acts like a small town. Why do we have processes in a democratic system if they're ignored?"

Me and Miami's Only Daily

I'll buy an ad if that's what it takes to tell my side of the story: I've always enjoyed Max Castro's columns in the Miami Herald. I also enjoyed his article in the February 26 edition of New Times, in which he discussed his column being dropped by the Herald. Nothing he wrote surprised me. My only question would be this: Why does the Herald, which enjoys constitutional protections, practice censorship while allowing the extreme influence by right-wing Cuban fanatics?

Editorials say a lot about a newspaper -- and the community it serves. In this case, the Herald has been the "daily education" for one of the poorest, most ignorant, and most corrupt areas in the nation.

Tom Swavely

Miami Springs

Editor's note: Max Castro's essay was a paid advertisement sponsored by Progreso Weekly (www.progresoweekly.com).

Way Too Much Time on Their Hands

Maybe that explains why the cops threw me in jail for no reason: Thanks to Humberto Guida for his very insightful "BuzzIn" column called "Bouncer Bully" (February 19). I recently moved to Miami and experienced something very similar on Saturday, February 21.

We were pulled out of a club (Soho Lounge) by an extremely aggressive bouncer. I was just trying to get some air but the bouncer didn't let me exit the club and roughed up my boyfriend for no reason. The cops were already waiting around the corner and arrested him in no time. The bouncer claimed we'd started a commotion inside the club.

When my boyfriend was arrested, I asked the police officers why they arrested him and where they were taking him. They didn't answer but instead arrested me too. We both spent a night in jail and I can assure you it was the worst night of my life.

We were never informed of why we were actually arrested. It was exactly as Humberto wrote -- they simply cuffed us and I got shoved in a cell for the entire night without being told what was going to happen to me. This kind of incident is obviously quite common. It makes one wonder if Miami law enforcement has nothing better to do.

Rima Gerhard

South Miami

The Defenders: It's No Accident

Why do you think Bennett Brummer has been there 28 years? I read Rebecca Wakefield's article "Sustained Objections" (February 19) with astonishment. I recently retired after 31 years of public service in Miami-Dade County. During most of that time my job involved working closely with key stakeholders within the human-services and criminal-justice systems, including the Office of the Public Defender and its chief, Bennett Brummer.

My work was primarily in the juvenile-justice arena, where I have for years witnessed the heartfelt sensitivity and tireless client advocacy by public-defender administrators and staffers in the interest of children. The characterization of Mr. Brummer and his office presented in this article is completely inconsistent with my own professional experience and the general high regard in which Mr. Brummer, his senior staff, and the Office of the Public Defender are held within the criminal-justice community.

It is not by accident that Mr. Brummer has served in this elective office for 28 years, all but once reelected unopposed. Rather it is a testament to the dedication and personal integrity he brings to the office and demands of his staff. I would expect a fair-minded journalist to give at least equal weight to the public record of a distinguished 28-year public servant, as it appears this article has given to a group of young attorneys supporting his political opponent. I don't know any of these young attorneys but I had to ask myself if it is possible they could have their own less-than-altruistic agenda.

Paul T. Sweeney

Miami

Editor's note: Additional letters in reaction to "Sustained Objections" follow below.

I was surprised by the nature of Rebecca Wakefield's article in the New Times as it pertained to the Public Defender here in Miami, Bennett Brummer. I was a member of that Office for eight years and worked closely with Mr. Brummer. I found Mr. Brummer to be an excellent leader and administrator who surrounded himself with capable and hard-working individuals who cared deeply about the representation of indigents. Every year Mr. Brummer went to Tallahassee and brought us back a sufficient budget to allow us to do our work ... no easy feat, when his job was to ask politicians for money to enable us to defend the poor, the disenfranchised, and the outcasts of our society.

Peter Raben

Miami

Reading Rebecca Wakefield's article raised the ultimate irony: that the man elected by the citizens of Dade County to defend the constitutional rights of our community has so little regard for the First Amendment rights of his own lawyers. The firing of Lonnie Richardson, a young, hard-working lawyer, shows that after 28 years in office, Brummer seems to have lost sight of his obligations to his clients and is instead focused solely on preserving his power. The young lawyers opposing him ought to be applauded for taking a principled stand, not bullied. As an attorney in private practice, I know that any of these lawyers could easily be making two to three times their current salaries in private practice. The fact that they choose to stay as public defenders and try to improve an office whose quality is declining shows that their complaints are not "just another political smear tactic" as Brummer claims, but a sign that at least some people in the Public Defender's Office think their clients deserve better than what they're getting.

Cristina Alonso, Esq.

Miami

As a former member of the Public Defender's office (I left with deep regrets last summer to move to California), I was disturbed by last week's article and the misleading impression it gives of the office.

Bennett Brummer is a nationally respected public defender who is committed to the politically unpopular but constitutionally vital mission of providing zealous, quality representation to indigent criminal defendants. Bennett embodies what it truly means to be a public defender. He is not only an able administrator but a passionate defender of civil liberties. He has consistently been willing to take unpopular positions to protect the rights of our clients, and he fought hard for the office to have the independence, authority, and resources it needed to represent its clients well. Bennett's accomplishments in defending civil liberties were recognized by the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which awarded him its highest honor -- the Nelson Poynter award.

The assertion that laziness is rampant in the office is grossly unfair. The assistant public defenders in Bennett's office include some of the smartest, most skilled, and most dedicated lawyers -- in both the trial and appellate divisions -- it has ever been my pleasure to work with. I came to the office after working at a top corporate law firm, so my standards for judging good lawyering and hard work are not low.

Dead wood is a problem in any large office, and the public defender's office is not immune. It is also true that public defender offices, like most public sector law offices, have a hard time competing with the more lucrative private sector to retain talented young lawyers, especially those struggling under crushing student loan debts. (It is a tribute to Bennett, however, that many lawyers return to the office after stints in private practice.)

In my experience, however, Bennett was continually striving to improve the office and the quality of the representation it provides. Bennett's track record of effective leadership and commitment to indigent defense have long earned him the respect and support of Miami-Dade voters. He continues to be -- by far -- the best suited to lead the office forward. The role of the public defender is too important to be entrusted to a novice.

Christina A. Spaulding

Berkeley, California

I read, somewhat bemusedly, Rebecca Wakefield's recent, less than favorable article, "Sustained Objections" regarding the Miami-Dade OPD. For many years I have been a criminal defense attorney in the state of New Jersey, representing an indigent clientele. In this capacity, I have had exposure to many indigent defense systems throughout the country. The Miami-Dade OPD and its director, Bennett Brummer, enjoy an outstanding reputation in national defense circles as one of the premier indigent defense organizations in the country. The Miami-Dade OPD is nationally recognized for many cutting-edge innovations in the field, including the Drug Court concept and the Anti-Violence Initiative, among others -- innovations not yet available in other defense systems throughout the country. As a one-time "young lawyer," and now having managed numerous lawyers throughout my career in criminal defense work, I would add the observation that the view from below can be somewhat, by its very nature, limited. Thus, young lawyers doing the basic, daily, important courtroom tasks, are, at times, unaware of the equally important obligations of upper management in building and maintaining the infrastructure that, indeed, allows these young lawyers to do their job well -- not to mention actually pay them! I was bemused by her article in that Mr. Brummer, a lawyer, fluent in the Spanish language, and having spent a lifetime dedicated to the cause of the indigent in the Miami-Dade area, gives public service, in this instance, the good name it deserves.

Jorge C. Godoy, Esq.

Ardmore, Oklahoma

I was surprised by the nature of Rebecca Wakefield's article in the New Times as it pertained to the Public Defender here in Miami, Bennett Brummer. I was a member of that Office for eight years and worked closely with Mr. Brummer. I found Mr. Brummer to be an excellent leader and administrator who surrounded himself with capable and hard-working individuals who cared deeply about the representation of indigents. Every year Mr. Brummer went to Tallahassee and brought us back a sufficient budget to allow us to do our work ... no easy feat, when his job was to ask politicians for money to enable us to defend the poor, the disenfranchised, and the outcasts of our society.

Peter Raben

Miami

I read Rebecca Wakefield's article regarding Mr. Brummer's office. I am a Miami resident who worked for the Public Defender and resigned in January 2003 to attend the seminary in Kansas City. The attorneys at the office are well-trained and hard working. Mr. Brummer has done an excellent job managing an office with limited resources. He is extremely dedicated to the clients, to the people of Miami, and to the attorneys who work for him.

One of the first things I learned at the Public Defender's Office was to examine if a person making statements has a bias or interest in the outcome of the proceeding. This article is based upon information from a small group of attorneys who want Mr. Martin to win. There are 400 employees who work for Mr. Brummer and they are not lazy. They work long hours with huge caseloads and work nights and weekends to prepare for trials. There is a real question about the reliability of the information given to the New Times.

I worked as a training attorney there and I can tell you that young attorneys are supervised by senior attorneys. There are training attorneys in every division and regular in-house trainings. Senior attorneys sit in on trials with the younger attorneys and rarely will one attorney go to trial on a felony case alone. Her article mentions the caseloads these attorneys are facing. The article describes that these attorneys have three options: work hard, leave, or misrepresent people. I suggest there is a fourth alternative. There are a small group of attorneys who leave because they are not competent, cannot handle the work, or are not dedicated to indigent defense. Many attorneys in the office have worked there for a long time representing thousands of clients. I credit this achievement to Mr. Brummer's expertise.

Finally, according to her article, Mr. Martin is not seeking the Public Defender position because he has experience managing a state office with a multimillion-dollar budget (he does not), nor has he demonstrated that the other 190-plus attorneys who work for the office share his opinion (they do not). Her article suggests that he believes that he can capture the $136,000 salary for himself and award the high-level positions in the office to the small group helping him because he is a Cuban-American running against Mr. Brummer. Miami is a diverse community and I believe Miami represents a template for this country's future. In Miami, there are a diverse group of people from different backgrounds living together and demonstrating oneness beyond cultural distinction. Mr. Martin's reliance upon his race invites disharmony in a community that is working so hard to be harmonious and he presumes Cuban-American voters will vote for a less qualified candidate because of race. This saddens me.

Frank Triola

Lenexa, Kansas

Rebecca Wakefield's article about the Public Defender's Office unfairly paints a dismal picture of staff malaise and political strong-arming. Unfortunately, she got her paint set for this smear job from a group of pouting malcontents. The steady, seasoned leadership of Bennett Brummer has provided solid professional representation to people accused of crimes. Ms. Wakefield writes that "the half-dozen attorneys who spoke to New Times express ... dissatisfaction." It would have been journalistic fair play for her to seek out at least some of the many assistants who delight in bringing enthusiasm and professionalism to their cases or to note some of the very superior lawyers on staff. This was slanted advocacy, not balanced journalism.

Mel Black

Coconut Grove

My Completely Subjective Opinion of Celeste

She'd be pathetic if she weren't laughable: This is a brief comment on Celeste Fraser Delgado's story about Thalía and Paulina ("Who Cares!" February 19). The same way she subjectively expressed her opinion about them in her article, I would like to express what I think about her as a reporter. Her lack of knowledge is humorous and pathetic. Both these Latin talents have been in the media for a long, long time, and if they are that forgettable, they wouldn't have lasted.

Obviously even the title of the article is wrong, because if she truly didn't care, she would not have featured them both. Or is it that she didn't have anything better to do?

Anyway, thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback. I hope Delgado's career lasts as long as the "forgettable" ones.

Martin Layerla

North Miami

The Greatest Prison Story Ever Told

It had everything I could have wanted: Congratulations to Celeste Delgado for her story of female inmates at the Homestead Correctional Institution ("Blue Lines, Steel, and the Hour of Myth," February 12). She has merged three of my favorite themes: the problems encountered by Latin-American women in the U.S., mythology, and mythology's deep connection with the human psyche and human life. When I began reading "Blue Lines," I couldn't believe my eyes! She had everything there ready for me!

I've always been puzzled by the connection between mythology and real life. I think that somehow our everyday life is just the material projection of an inner life that moves on the back of our minds, unreachable to our conscious minds. Mythology could be the expression of this other life and provide the key to understanding it.

I would love to read more of her articles, but "Blue Lines, Steel, and the Hour of Myth" is the greatest story ever!

Betty Grullon

Miami

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