Judge John "Jay" Hurley and Assistant Public Defender W. Dale Miller are no strangers to each other. Add to the mix the fact that Miller is now running in an election for a position as a Judge, and you have the perfect set of ingredients for the fire storm that came at a bond hearing for a homeless man.
First, it is important to note that the homeless community is not exactly a friend of Judge Hurley. Twice, he has kicked out a public defender who 'dared' to ask the Judge that homeless defendants be given legal representation.
Second, it is also important to note that Miller and Judge Hurley clashed earlier this year at a bond hearing for a man who was arrested along with four other men, charged with burglary and other charges, but also linked to a shooting. Miller argued that his client ran from police in order to avoid being a victim of police brutality, a position that may only have been strengthened considering the latest news. In response, Judge Hurley argued with Miller to the point that, upon returning from a self-imposed break, Judge Hurley felt the need to apologize to Miller.
It is with those two facts in mind that brings us to the latest spat between the two. Miller was representing a homeless man who was charged with possession of flakka, a form of bath salts, at a bond hearing. As we discussed previously, bond/bail hearings operate a little differently for the poor than they do for the rich, and this case was no different.
Miller's client was on the verge of being released without bond, on his own recognizance, when the prosecutors objected on the grounds that being homeless meant he would be difficult to track. Miller rightfully pointed out that just because someone is homeless, it "should not be an impediment to being [released] pre-trial." After all, and as Miller pointed out, the only requirement is that his client "stays out of trouble and reports properly" – exactly the same set of steps required for people who do have homes.
Judge Hurley didn't buy it and ruled that a homeless person has no ties to the community, and thus ordered a $1,000 bond – something small enough to fly under the radar, but large enough to ensure Miller's client would spend all the time between now and his trial in jail. That's right – this man, and many like him, are treated like they are guilty before anyone has even had a chance to rule on the evidence. Freedom? Justice? Miller didn't think so.
After Judge Hurley quickly moved on to the next issue, Miller made what Judge Hurley considered to be a smart-alec response. Miller tried to transition into asking for a drug class for his client by saying "Judge, since we're going to warehouse [my client] for a while," but Judge Hurley cut him off, immediately responding with vitriol.
"Your unprofessionalism and your smart alec … sir, don't even try." Judge Hurley then went further, accusing Miller of doing "this quite often." He stated that he has "admonished you many times. You know you're taking a shot by saying warehousing." Miller wouldn't take it, though, stating that he "will not stop advocating zealously for [his] clients". In fact, at the end of the back-and-forth, Miller actually got what he wanted. Though the request had to be made over the Judge's protestations, Miller stood his ground, stating "Judge, Mr. Ross would like the court to sign a SAP order since he's going to be sitting with no ability to bond out. I've asked the court to sign that order so he can attend that class."
Miller's boss, Broward Public Defender Howard Finklestein, was quick to jump to Miller's defense. He denied Judge Hurley's claim that Miller had been "admonished" for conduct in the Judge's courtroom. Finklestein went so far as to say "Not only have I not admonished him, I think he's doing an extraordinary job … It's not easy standing up to a judge who has consistently shown such a disregard for the constitutional rights of homeless people … If anybody has been unprofessional in that courtroom when it comes to homeless people, it's Judge Hurley."
In 2014, Finklestein wrote a letter to the Chief Judge in Broward County, asking for Judge Hurley to be reassigned. Miller is up for election as a Judicial Candidate for Group 3, with voting to take place on August 30, 2016. Hurley's current term as the judge for Group 12 ends on January 2, 2017, with voting to take place on August 30, 2016 as well.
If you want the local government to know what you think about anyone's behavior in this incident, contact Broward County Chief Judge Peter M. Weinstein, Florida State Courts Administrator Patricia "PK" Jameson, and the Broward County Commissioners. Also, don't forget to register to vote in the upcoming elections.
Update: A previous version of this article had the wrong group number for Mr. Miller's campaign. He is, in fact, running as a candidate in Group 3.