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Miami's criminal courthouse is abuzz with talk of a mysterious, irreverent blogger called Rumpole, an anonymous watchdog — and also a public defender — who keeps tabs on the justice system from the inside.
His blog Justice Building (www.justicebuilding.blogspot.com) chronicles everything from the broken courthouse escalator to poor decision-making on the part of the Florida Bar, usually offering criticism in the form of humor.
Rumpole has a healthy disdain for two types of bureaucrats: judges who set high bonds to keep their case loads down, and prosecutors who are less interested in the truth than making a name for themselves.
When Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Levenson made a gay joke about a 16-year-old alleged victim of sexual molestation, Rumpole took a stand. He also called out Miami Circuit Judge Spencer Eig for implying he'd cut a break to a defendant if the man agreed to marry his "baby's mama."
Created in 2005, the site garners 700 to 1,100 hits a day and usually nabs 20 to 40 comments per post (a level of feedback that, sadly, puts Riptide 2.0 to shame).
"Everybody has an opinion about who he is," says attorney Bill Gelin, who helped launch a similar blog in Broward. "He's very prolific."(Gelin guesses, based on Rumpole's musical tastes, that the mystery blogger is around 50 years old.)
Late last month, Rumpole posted his 1,000th blog entry. On the anniversary, Riptide set out to find a little more about this enigmatic fellow — without, of course, blowing his cover.
On his site, Rumpole explains why he's chosen to remain anonymous. "From time to time, I need to get my clients a bond" — no mean feat when the blogger's ire falls upon a judge. Instead, he's taken the pen name of a British television character, Rumpole of the Bailey, a lawyer who would defend even the slimiest of criminals.
Broward blogger Sean Conway understands why Rumpole wants to stay on the down-low. A Florida Bar committee recommended he be reprimanded for writing that Circuit Judge Cheryl Aleman is an evil, unfair witch. (The state supreme court has declined to confirm it, citing freedom of speech.
"It's disappointing that lawyers feel they have to blog anonymously," he says. "But the bar is waiting to shoot them down with snipers."
Other lawyers theorize that Rumpole — like Shakespeare — could be more than one man. "Some think he's a group of two or three older lawyers," Conway says.
Reached via e-mail, Rumpole told Riptide he was too busy for an interview. "Sorry. I am up to my ears in prosecutors who are losing," he wrote. "And when they feel like they're losing, they start buzzing like angry bees."
So we pestered him one last time for a hint about his identity.
He wrote back, cryptically: "I've sailed the seven seas. And the first vote I ever cast was for Ronald Wilson Reagan in 1979. And I worked for the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. That's enough."
As for whether courthouse blogs like Rumpole's actually do any good, you might be surprised.
"Judges who were previously mean and nasty treat everybody, by and large, with more respect," says Gelin. "They are incredibly paranoid and sensitive to media coverage."