No wrong found in false court records
An investigation into the planting of false court records by two Miami-Dade judges found no wrongdoing, even though the phony information remains on the public docket in one case. The Judicial Qualifications Commission's inquiry also missed evidence of false records in another case after the clerk's office deleted it from the public docket.
A spokeswoman for the JQC, an independent agency that investigates complaints of judicial misconduct, declined to comment.
The JQC opened an inquiry into the actions of Miami-Dade Circuit judges Daryl Trawick and Victoria Sigler after receiving a complaint from a Broward circuit judge in February.
The complaint alleged "judicial misconduct based on the falsification of records," according to a Feb. 21 letter written by JQC Executive Director Brooke Kennerly. In Florida, it is a crime for anyone, even a judge, to falsify court records.
In the case handled by Trawick, 10 phony docket entries purported to show that criminal charges were dropped against a defendant who was cooperating with prosecutors and police. In fact, the informant pleaded guilty to laundering drug money.
In the case handled by Sigler, an informant pleaded guilty to attempted murder and kidnapping, but the plea was not docketed.
And for nearly a year, misleading entries were added to the docket that made it appear that a trial was pending.
Through a court spokeswoman, Trawick and Sigler acknowledged last month that they approved altering the court dockets. They explained the secrecy was supposed to be temporary and wasn't intended "to arbitrarily conceal case activity."
"In both instances, both the defense and the prosecution approached the court and jointly requested the placement of temporary entries on the docket to protect defendants cooperating with law enforcement," said court spokeswoman Eunice Sigler, who is not related to the judge.
The JQC began to check out the Feb. 13 complaint against the two judges, but its inquiry went nowhere fast, according to a letter that offers a rare glimpse of how the secretive JQC does its job.
"A review of the dockets for the two cases you listed does not reveal any factual basis for action by the commission," Kennerly wrote to the complainant, Broward Judge Robert Lance Andrews.
By then, the phony records in Trawick's case had been erased from the public docket.
Eunice Sigler said the false entries were deleted by "a supervisor within the Clerk of Courts, most likely after receiving notice of an error in the docket."
Still, the JQC could have found the records if it had requested access to the clerk's non-public docket.
Mike Henderson, a top assistant to clerk Harvey Ruvin, said the deleted false entries in the case of Salim "Johnny" Batrony still exist on a non-public side of the clerk's electronic docket.
He gave a copy of that information to reporters.
The JQC, which can issue subpoenas, has the authority to obtain such information, but never sought access to it, according to Ruvin and Henderson.
The false information was on the public docket for more than four years before it was deleted between late August and October after The Miami Herald asked about it.
Now the case file also is missing.
According to court spokeswoman Eunice Sigler, clerks typically insert into the file a written explanation as to why docket changes were made.
"But because the original file cannot be located, the clerk's office has no way of giving us further information," Sigler said.
'PHONIED UP' DOCKET
Batrony's Miami lawyer, Paul Petruzzi, has said the clerk's office "phonied up" the docket at the direction of Trawick and an assistant state attorney to allow Batrony to work undercover. Trawick now is assigned to the civil bench.
The JQC's inquiry regarding Judge Sigler involved the docket in the case of Michael Scott Segal. Kennerly's letter said the JQC found no evidence of false docket entries. But a recent review by The Miami Herald shows the false entries remain on Segal's public docket.
Segal, who cooperated with authorities, pleaded guilty to attempted murder and kidnapping at an unusual secret hearing at a Miami-Dade police station on May 13, 2003, according to a transcript obtained by The Miami Herald.
Segal's plea, taken by Sigler, was not docketed.
Kennerly declined to be interviewed because JQC investigations are confidential until formal charges are filed. If no charge is filed, they remain confidential forever. Andrews, the judge who filed the complaint, did not comment.
The Florida Supreme Court has said it is examining the falsification of court records to protect informants a practice Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle's office said has gone on quietly for decades.
Copyright 2006, Miami Herald Media Company
From: The Miami Herald, May 20, 2007, http://www.miamiherald.com/884/story/112651.html, accessed May 23, 2007. Dan Christensen can be reached at: dchristensen@MiamiHerald.com. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.