State Politics

DeSantis grows impatient as Scott Israel suspension hearings look like a summer affair

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspends BSO sheriff Scott Israel, and replaces him with Gregory Tony

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Israel was under fire over BSO’s response to the Parkland shooting. His replacement, Gregory Tony, is a former Coral Springs police sergeant.
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Broward Sheriff Scott Israel was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. Israel was under fire over BSO’s response to the Parkland shooting. His replacement, Gregory Tony, is a former Coral Springs police sergeant.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is growing impatient.

It was all the way back in January when he suspended former Broward sheriff Scott Israel and appointed Greg Tony to replace him. Israel fought the suspension all the way to the Supreme Court and lost Tuesday, but there’s still no resolution.

That’s because, barring the unlikely scenario that Israel stops fighting, the Florida Senate still has to take up the former sheriff’s case. And with the 2019 legislative session coming to a close next week, a Senate hearing doesn’t seem likely until June at the earliest — a schedule that DeSantis sees as too sluggish.

“The Florida Senate needs to take up both Mary Beth Jackson and Sheriff Israel, we have time left. They need to go and vote on those,” DeSantis told reporters Wednesday, referring also to a challenge brought by the suspended superintendent of Okaloosa County schools. “Both of those lawsuits were frivolous and now they need to be judged according to the Florida Constitution. So we’re hoping we’ll see that and if it doesn’t happen, then we may be bringing [senators] back into town for a little bit.”

The Senate seems destined to spend time in Tallahassee after the scheduled May 3 close of the legislative session, but not at the governor’s behest.

Senate President Bill Galvano said three months ago that he would try to bring the cases to a conclusion by the end of the legislative session. But that was before Israel joined Jackson in filing a challenge, both of which wound up before the state Supreme Court.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday in Israel’s case, Galvano instructed a special master appointed to oversee proceedings in the two cases to jumpstart the proceedings in the former sheriff’s suspension. Ben Kuehne, an attorney for Israel, said the proceedings are numerous and complex.

“Getting this case ready for special master consideration is time-consuming, complicated and has significant evidence in the form of witnesses and documents that the lawyers must be prepared to review and then present,” said Kuehne, who questioned whether DeSantis’ comments were appropriate. “It is for the legislative branch to decide how to handle this.”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Galvano said he doesn’t think DeSantis can call a special session to force hearings on the suspensions. Galvano’s office provided letters sent Tuesday laying out Jackson’s schedule and seeking to determine dates for Israel, whose attorneys have until Friday to submit dates along with DeSantis’ office.

“The role of suspending or removing or reinstating is unique to the Senate and under the constitution only the Senate has the ability to convene itself to fulfill executive actions,” he said. Galvano added that once the special master issues a report and recommendation in each of the two cases, the Senate will decide to come back to Tallahassee for their hearings. That could be this summer, “but there’s no commitment” in terms of timing, he said.

Dudley Goodlatte, the special master assigned the cases, is tasked with crafting an advisory report in the two suspensions. Galvano has previously said he will submit Goodlatte’s report to the Senate’s rules committee, which will in turn submit a report for the full Senate to consider.

Jackson has a final hearing date set for May 28 and 29. It seems likely that Israel’s proceedings wouldn’t be scheduled until after that.

Herald/Times reporter Emily Mahoney contributed to this report.

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