The best solution is to get rid of the psycho-BS testimony. People who commit serious crimes have mental issues. They are not normal. Punishment should be based on the crime, not on the perps mental problems.
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
"For a long period, if you wanted to get a downward departure in Broward, you needed Dr. Brannon on your case," says Robert Wills, a chief assistant public defender.
The money began drying up in 2008 and dwindled to just $1,000 per month the following year after the office switched to a rotation of doctors. Brannon contends Finkelstein stopped using him after the doctor testified in a disciplinary hearing for the controversial judge Cheryl Alemán. Brannon was completely cut off from public defender work in 2010.
Finkelstein, who was generally cutting costs, calls that claim absurd. He says Brannon was booted from the rotation after making improper comments on the stand in a homicide case.
"I was alarmed that one person [Brannon] was making this much money," Finkelstein says. "Rather than letting all of our lawyers pick whomever they wanted — and remember, a lot of my lawyers have been lawyers less than 30 days — we decided we'd go to a rotation basis. That way it would bring more psychologists into the system; there wouldn't be any allegations of kickbacks or favoritism."
Hostilities flared a year later when state prosecutors hired Brannon for a homicide case. Finkelstein's office asked the judge to exclude the doctor, who responded with a federal lawsuit claiming his free speech had been violated after he testified against Alemán. Brannon claims he was facing retaliation for crossing one of Broward's most powerful public figures. "They purposely tried to sabotage my career," Brannon says.
Brannon wasn't the only one to see his blackballing as political. "I think he's a good doctor. He gave an honest opinion, and as a defense attorney, that's what I'm looking for," says Natalie Knight-Tai, a former attorney with the public defender's office. "The freeze-out, it was definitely political."
In terms of court time and public money, the Brannon issue has become a dumpster fire. Since the suit was filed, virtually every time the psychologist shows up, the defense puts time and resources toward fighting his appearance. The defender's office estimates it's happened in 50 to 60 cases already. And Finkelstein says the State Attorney's Office has continued to use the doctor despite the hassle.
Currently, the prosecution is pushing to use Brannon on the case of Alexandria Sladon-Marler, a drifter with a history of mental illness accused of dumping her newborn in a trash bin outside a Fort Lauderdale motel. "If you know the public defender has a conflict with Dr. Brannon," a frustrated Broward Judge Barbara McCarthy chastised the state at a hearing this past January, "then you're creating more time and litigation for her to sit in jail and go through the process while you litigate with the public defender's office."
Adds Finkelstein: "The behavior of the Broward County State Attorney's Office has been shameless. They have created this mess. It's not being done for the right reason."
In an email to New Times, Kim Fontana of the State Attorney's Office says Brannon is well respected and has worked for both sides for nearly two decades, adding that "the dispute with Dr. Brannon neither mandates nor justifies efforts to exclude as a witness."
Last November, a federal judge ruled against Brannon, stating the psychologist failed to link his drop-off in work to the Alemán testimony. Brannon admits many of his witnesses came down with "convenient amnesia," and he has appealed the decision. "I'm not going anywhere," he says, his voice carrying the faint rumble of an old alter ego. "They're going to have to deal with me."