Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein Fires two Assistant Public Defenders for Anti-Palestinian Comments: Free Speech or Fair Game

by Haydee Oropesa

Three Israeli teens were abducted by Palestinians and shot multiple times last month reports the Globe and the Mail, read here.

Eyal Yifrach

Eyal Yifrach

Naftali Frankel

Naftali Frankel

 

 

Gilad Shaer

Gilad Shaer

Naftali was American and just 16 years old.  The Globe article indicates that speculation exists that the deaths resulted after kidnappers, who had intended to seize the teens to use as barter to trade in a prisoner exchange, panicked and shot the teens.   The Globe article states that a US official, investigating the case, believes the killings were premeditated.  The killings followed unsuccessful US brokered peace talks.  Violence against Palestinian youths also followed as has fighting between Hamas and the Israelis military in the Gaza Strip.

15 Year old Palestinian-American Tariq Abukhdeir, from Tampa, was severely beaten by Israeli Police while observing a protest held after his 16 year old cousin, Muhammed Abu Khudair, was kidnapped and burned to death.  According to the Globe, Israeli police believe that far right Israelis extremists killed Khudair in retaliation for the three Israeli youth murders.  Lawyer Herald reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu has called Khudair’s father, read here.

Muhammed Khudair

Tariq Abukhdeir

Tariq Abukhdeir

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Florida Local News 7 and The Sun Sentinel reported that Broward County Public Defender, Howard Finkelstein, fired two assistant public defenders this week for posting anti-Palestinian sentiments on their FaceBook pages.  According to the Sentinel the posts were made in response to a FB post reporting Palestinian celebration about the murders of the Israeli teens.  Former Assistant Public Defenders, Bruce Ratifcoff and Gary Sheres called Palestinians “filthy swine” and “cockroaches.”   Sheres claimed the posts were directed at the Palestinians who killed the Israeli teens not Palestinians in general.  One of the posts included, “burn them to the ground.”  Bruce Raticoff, who maintains that the posts should be viewed as a 1st amendment free speech expression, says someone else used his account to post the comments, not him. Finkelstein, in response, says then he should not invoke the 1st Amendment if he did not make the comments.  The Sentinel report states that Raticoff presented Finkelstein with an affidavit by the mother of the individual who used his account to write the posts.  Finkelstein did not believe Raticoff.

Gary Sheres

Bruce Raticoff

Bruce Raticoff

 

Howard Finkelstein

Howard Finkelstein

Tensions are going to run way high when you consider the senseless killings and brutality inflicted on young boys because of a long standing conflict that seems will never end.  The comments posted on the FB pages of Raticoff and Sheres are offensive and do not read like it was meant just for the Palestinians who perpetrated the killings on young boys.   However, on the flip, I can understand how someone would lash out verbally in the face of news reports of what occurred to 3 innocent boys.  I may not personally agree with the utterances of Raticoff and Sheres but I equally do not agree with them losing their job for exercising their rights under the law.  Doesn’t freedom of speech include speech that is offensive?

I was a former assistant public defender, I have to say, they often are unfairly undervalued and derogatorily viewed.  In the almost 7 years that I served the indigent I almost became indigent, yet the time spent there was of immeasurable worth.  I was able to fight the good fight among the ranks of a truly special group of individuals who have a heart for the underdog and for defending constitutional rights and freedoms.  The commitment by public defenders to defend people accused of even the most loathsome of acts does not mean that they condone that behavior.  Criminal defense attorneys, when undertaking the defense of a case, don’t think, “hey you accused of brutally jacking up that unsuspecting victim, I can’t wait to defend you, my heart is overflowing with excitement.”  What a good criminal defense attorney will do is ensure that the constitution is followed, due process respected, and fairness upheld, even if the client is guilty.

Defending someone’s freedom of speech does not mean you agree with the speech or the manner of expression.  Do we want potential jurors to stay silent during jury selection when attorneys inquire about potential bias prior to a trial?  Do we want an anti-Palestinian juror to stay silent in a politically correct culture and be selected to sit in judgment of a Palestinian defendant? I had a trial some years ago where a few prospective jurors were admitting to racial bias against my client’s race, that was a good thing.  Can you imagine jurors not being forthcoming in matters of someone receiving a fair trial because they fear they will be outed and lose their jobs?  Isn’t it better for Palestinians who are  charged with a crime and are indigent to be able to detect who is possibly prejudiced towards them and tell the Public Defender, “excuse me can you please assign someone who does not think I am a cockroach?”  Do we want the truth about who people are or do we want bigots to hide in silence?  What about Lord Blackstone’s ratio, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Makes sense to those who highly value freedom.  For those who highly value the right to freely speak, 

“Better a thousandfold abuse of speech than denial of free speech.”  Charles Bradlaugh 

Bill Gelin, the Broward Blogger of JAAB Blog, is a friend of Finkelstein and initially received critical comments on his blog about not calling out Raticoff and Sheres about their offensive posts.  Bill Gelin who is notoriously known for his aggressive fight for free speech and being publicly vocal about what is wrong in society, he constantly criticizes Broward State Attorney Michael Satz, interestingly has not commented on the controversy.    One recent post on Gelin’s blog reads,

“Hey Bill: What’s with the radio silence on the boiling PD story. If this was a Sat story, I bet you would have 3 inch headlines. Are you your own man or has Howard told you to sit this one out?”

In reaction to Raticoff’s termination, the Sentinel quotes Raticoff as saying,

“At least I won’t be the public defender who wiped his ass with the First Amendment to the Constitution on Independence Day,” “Men and women have died in various wars throughout the history of this country defending free speech. He spit on the graves of those men and women.”

The true test of whether the 1st amendment works is not when you utter socially acceptable speech but when you are allowed to hurl vile rants, that is freedom.  One of Finkelstein’s assistant public defenders, Lubna Abualown, is Palestinian and upset with the comments posted by her former co-workers, yet argued so that they would not be fired.  Props to you Ms. Abualown, instead of launching a missile you reacted for the good of your fellow man and extended kindness and mercy.  Your words are resoundingly stronger than the Facebook posts.  The Sun Sentinel gives a quote from Abualown speaking to a crowd of co-workers,

“Ask yourselves, are you living the example you want your children to be?”

Ms. Abualown gets to say that in a free country.    What would the fate be of someone decrying violence against Israel within a group of militant Hamas members or speaking out in defense of Palestinians in the midst of extremist Israelis? You would possibly, because of fear, not be able to speak out even to call humanity to consider the way of peaceful co-existence.  Get it, by stifling speech you may silence even that which would produce positive change.  Consider the churches and individuals who remained silent during Hitler’s persecution and murder of innocent Jews in order to avoid conflict with the Nazi regime. Read this morning’s post on Jaablog at 8:11 a.m. here, from an individual who castigates those who attack Israel for going tit for tat with Hamas while remaining silent about Palestinian violence against Israel, his post handle is “Anonymous.”

Freedom of Speech or Fair Game by Finkelstein?  FloridaYouJudge!

 

 
 
 

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