Letters from the Issue of March 4, 2004
No velvet ropes, no overpriced cocktails, and lots of free parking: After reading Rebecca Wakefield's article "Rope Tricks" (February 26), I now know why these South Beach nightspots come and go so rapidly: They refuse entry to almost everyone! Do you think Burdines should tell fat people not to shop at its stores?
Those nightclubs are so dark and cavernous, who can see what anyone looks like anyway? If I owned a club that charged twenty dollars for admission and ten dollars for a drink, I would admit anyone, everyone. An owner's goal is to make money, isn't it?
I'll be happy to remain in Kendall, go to restaurants and clubs that covet my business, and enjoy the free parking.
Editor's note: Owing to a reporting error in "Rope Tricks," real estate developer Peter Ehrlich was misidentified as a partner in the restaurant Tantra. Ehrlich is a partner in the same Miami-based real estate company as Tantra owner Tim Hogle, but he has no ownership interest in the restaurant. New Times regrets the error.
Cultures don't have to clash, and free weeklies shouldn't throw bombs: Regarding Brett Sokol's "Kulchur" column about the Miami Beach Cultural Arts Council ("Culture Snob Alert," February 26), what matters to Miami Beach's residents and visitors is that the city commission and the CAC find common ground to ensure the vitality of the arts. As a five-year CAC member and recent chairwoman, I know there's much to build on. The CAC has funded more than 80 groups of all descriptions through a process that values both artistic excellence and community impact. We've worked to improve facilities and have created programs imitated by neighboring communities that have been quick to learn the arts are an economic catalyst.
The ever-shifting complexity of Miami Beach provides fertile soil for creativity. But complexity can spark anxiety and misunderstanding. "Going to war" is one response -- a provincial one, as the Miami Light Project's Beth Boone suggests. Such a response gets in the way of meeting real challenges and, alas, invites New Times to jump into the fray with provocative labels that exacerbate the rifts.
Miami Beach artists need and deserve support, and lots of us who live here are eager to help. We will draw from the arts the imagination and energy to agree on things we want to accomplish, and we'll strive for those goals the way we always have -- by arguing with passion, then evolving to consensus.
I Was a Victim of the Beach's Culture Wars
And I have a question: Is it American-Latino or Latino-American? I read with great interest Brett Sokol's article about the duplicity and dastardly actions of Miami Beach Commissioner Matti Bower in sabotaging the appointment process to the Cultural Arts Council. I was one of the eighteen "victims" -- approved enthusiastically by the council, promised the support of Matti Bower herself, and then completely abandoned by her as she entered her personal last-minute nominees.
I am a current member of the Fine Arts Board and would have resigned from that position for an appointment to the CAC. In fact I submit that no one now serving on the council has qualifications exceeding mine. (My application and résumé are on file at city hall.)
Mr. Sokol might also look into the attitude and agenda of Commissioner José Smith, who has never responded to my efforts to communicate with him -- six letters, four e-mails, and five telephone calls.
We in the world of the arts are serious about our intentions to enhance the cultural atmosphere here in Miami Beach. But people like me become angry and frustrated when rejected in such a manner. Are Miami and Miami Beach trying to become cultural American cities with a Latino flavor? Or are we becoming Latino cities with a slight American flavor?
Gordon M. Saks
Compelled to Action
I'll gladly sacrifice my editorial virginity for Bennett Brummer: The subheadline of Rebecca Wakefield's article "Sustained Objections (February 19) reads: "A group of young attorneys are in open revolt against their boss -- Public Defender Bennett Brummer." It seems to me it would more aptly read: "A group of young attorneys and at least one New Times journalist...."
Lest you think this letter is from one as notably partisan and agenda-laden as the sources for Ms. Wakefield's article, quite the opposite is true. I write this as a Republican with no partisan stake here, and as an attorney completely removed from the Miami political scene.
This constitutes my very first letter to the editor of any publication. At age 41 I evidently but unwittingly have been harboring this virginal status for something that would so incense me I'd be compelled to act. Ms. Wakefield should be congratulated on that score.
I am honored to have served for the past several years on the board of Baypoint Schools, an institution that continually distinguishes itself for its approach to changing the lives of young male juvenile offenders. It was in this capacity that I first met Miami-Dade County Public Defender Bennett Brummer. It was a hot, muggy summer night at a Baypoint dinner. It was not an election year and it was not about politics. It was about defending the defenseless -- in this case, young male juveniles with little hope in their lives.
Also that night I met one of Mr. Brummer's deputies, Marie Osborne. I can state unequivocally that you have not experienced the term "impassioned" (as it applies to caring about those who cannot make it above the poverty line) until you have met Marie. For this rather ideological Republican, the paradigm was changed forever.
Bennett Brummer and his top staff, people like Marie, keep serving at lesser salaries because they believe in what they do and stay the course in their anything-but-easy, government jobs. Why would they do that? Could it be that they actually care? How utterly refreshing it would be if Ms. Wakefield had the desire to dig a little deeper and find out. Now, that's an article I'd love to read.
Rose Ann Lovell
There are two sides to this story, but you published only one: Rebecca Wakefield's "Sustained Objections" appears to be a political perversion, not the result of objective investigative reporting. The Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office has a superlative national reputation for providing top-notch legal representation to the indigent accused of South Florida. Case in point is the office's ongoing, take-no-prisoners approach to its representation of FTAA protesters, including filing extraordinary writs to challenge excessive bonds and taking to trial (and getting acquittals on) the misdemeanor charges. The office carefully planned an integrated strategy and accessed legal resources from around the state and nation to assist. Under the leadership of Bennett Brummer and his top lawyers and administrators, poor defendants continue to benefit from lawyers "slugging it out in the courts" and defending them to the end.
The assistant public defenders work long, hard hours, have primary responsibilities for cases, and spend major portions of their days training and supervising less-experienced front-line defenders. This is as it should be. They are conscientious and dedicated to their jobs and institutional role of defending indigents. Any of them could quickly double their pay elsewhere.
Operating a large, institutional law office is undoubtedly a Herculean task. Some apathy, government slackers, and disgruntled employees are inevitable. But Bennett Brummer has consistently beat the odds of these bureaucratic plagues and has turned out a well-respected team. If you want people to make an informed choice, you need to provide them the other side.
Ask Me About Bennett
If you had, you wouldn't have had a one-sided story: I entered the exciting yet bizarre world of criminal defense as one of ten dedicated but grossly underpaid assistant public defenders in January 1971. Bennett Brummer was only six months behind me, so I have known and worked with him for 33 years -- certainly long enough to give an unqualified opinion that he is highly capable and radiates integrity.
Let's face facts: Defending indigent citizens accused of crimes is not the most popular job around -- not like, say, our friends the prosecutors, who are universally honored and loved. But despite the long hours, less-than-luxurious accommodations (the Metro Justice Building is a disgrace), and general public disdain, there are those of us who love defending people, and Bennett is one of us.
Why anyone would want the thankless job of Miami-Dade County Public Defender, let alone would want to fight over it, is beyond me, but Bennett feels it is his mission in life. Thank God he does, because those without the ample funds to pay substantial legal fees would have nowhere to turn. So he doesn't deserve the one-sided story published in your otherwise fine tabloid, based on the grumbling of a few disgruntled employees. Perhaps New Times could assign one of its clever lads to add some balance and perspective to this article.
The Defenders: They're Admired Everywhere
And they deserved better from a pipsqueak free weekly: My experience with the juvenile division of the Miami-Dade Public Defender's office runs directly contrary to Rebecca Wakefield's recent critique of that office. Marie Osborne and, before her, Steve Harper, are widely recognized as two of the leading practitioners in the entire United States on juvenile defense, and have forged an energetic, highly trained, and widely recognized juvenile-defense division that is the envy of other public defenders' offices around the country.
Their achievements, and the achievements of their dogged but underpaid and overburdened staff, were unrecognizable in Ms. Wakefield's "Sustained Objections." Instead her broad-brush treatment of the office, in which she took the complaints of a few partisan staff as gospel, maligned one of the hardest-working and most respected juvenile public defender staffs in the nation. All of those working in that office deserved better from their hometown paper.
Vincent Schiraldi, executive director
Justice Policy Institute
Allow Me to Attest
Diligence, integrity, and hard work -- for starters: As a supporter of the important investigative reporting of New Times, I write with a different opinion of "Sustained Objections" by Rebecca Wakefield. The Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office not only has Roy Black and H.T. Smith as alumni, it is known around the nation as one of the premier indigent-defense public law firms. This has occurred on Bennett Brummer's watch.
I cannot attest to the accusations of several of the disgruntled lawyers who have left the Public Defender's Office, but I can attest to the diligence, integrity, and hard work of Marie Osborne, chief of the juvenile division. As a member of the board of the Baypoint Schools, where almost all the boys enrolled have been assigned by the courts, I can attest to the diligence of the Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office.
Maurice A. Ferré
I Work There
And from what I can see, politics trumps racism: This past December, at the annual Public Defender's Office holiday party, an assistant public defender, Arnaldo Trevilla, called another assistant public defender, Chris Baisden, "nigger" three times before attacking him. Public Defender Bennett Brummer's own internal office investigation verified these facts. Despite this, on January 13 Brummer merely slapped Trevilla's wrist and gave him 30 days' unpaid leave.
It must be noted that Trevilla had aligned himself with Brummer in the upcoming public defender's election while Baisden supports Gabriel Martin, the challenger. Less than two weeks after his "punishment" of Trevilla, Brummer fired assistant public defender Lonnie Richardson, who was well regarded by judges and peers alike, for yelling "Martin" on a bullhorn at the Martin Luther King Day Parade in Liberty City.
In Brummer's office, I guess it's better to use the word "nigger" than the word "Martin."
Editor's note: Anthony Britt is a trial attorney employed by the Miami-Dade County Public Defender's Office.
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