If ever the Miami State Attorney's Office has prosecuted a lose-lose case, the ongoing trial of former judge Phil Davis is it. Getting a conviction might just make the prosecutor's office look negligent in its past dealings with the alleged fraud organizer.
If Davis' sname sounds familiar, it's because he was one of four judges caught up in a juicy FBI sting in the mid-'90s called "Operation Court Broom." The feds snared the judges accepting bribes in brown paper bags and under car seats from informants, and took them all to court.
Davis, memorably, wriggled out of more serious trouble than his three colleagues by admitting his raging cocaine and alcohol abuse. The stentorian-toned Harvard graduate told a shocked jury he always carried a dose of the white stuff in his pocket and often snorted up in his chambers.
The jury acquitted Davis, even though the FBI had recorded him arranging a $20,000 bribe to fix a case. Davis was disbarred for a decade for his sins.
Now he's back in Miami court, again defending himself against charges of corruption. On the stand last Friday and yesterday, Davis used a PowerPoint presentation to calmly explain why charges that he stole more than $80,000 from a nonprofit he founded in 1997 were untrue.
The case itself is complex -- hinging on whether Davis funneled grant money through a sham corporation or whether he simply had an unusual accounting method. But the most striking moment in his testimony this week came when he pointed a finger back at the prosecutors trying to take him down.
In 2003, according to Davis, he met with State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and a number of her assistant state attorneys to pitch his nonprofit -- the Miami Dade Resident College -- as an outlet for the state's diversion program, which offers lesser sentences to criminals who attend life skills and anger management classes.
Davis says he presented Rundle and her staff with virtually all of his nonprofit's financials and inner details. Rundle not only detected no fraud, Davis says, but also recommended his college for the diversion program.
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"I explained exactly how our system worked to... Rundle," Davis said on the stand.
Rundle and the ASAs present at the '03 meeting with Davis recused themselves from his prosecution. But the former judge's testimony leaves open some pressing questions: What took place at that meeting? If Davis's group is indeed guilty of massive fraud, why were none of the prosecutors tipped off?
Riptide sent these questions to Ed Griffith, the Miami SAO spokesman whom Davis says was also present at the meeting. Griffith hasn't yet responded.
Davis's trial, meanwhile, is ongoing at the Gerstein building downtown.