The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, that is the oath a witness is required to make in court before offering testimony. If a witness lies on the stand, the State Attorney can criminally charge that witness with perjury because we recognize as a society that lying is wrong. We are supposed to tell the truth, especially in court under oath. Upon taking office Florida judges, who serve the people, swear to the following, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States and of the State of Florida.” Law enforcement officers, prior to being assigned their duties, are required to swear to the same. We have a social contract with governing authorities. We have a deal, we give you the right to govern us within the constitutional parameters we agreed to as citizens in exchange for the protection of our rights. When you breach that trust, you are harming us instead of fulfilling your part of the bargain, and are no different than Officer Brandon Bill.
“The 4th Amendment to the US Constitution states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”
This week the Tampa Bay Times (TBT) reported that Judge Michael Andrews granted a motion to suppress after finding that Officer Brandon Bill, from the St Petersburg Police Department, was not credible. This made frontline news, Why? Because it is a rarity. Members of our community have weighed in and a commentator (“edpr’) in the comments section of TBT’s article stated, “The problem is that the action taken by the Judge is news.” Maybe it wouldn’t be news if such motions were granted routinely. Maybe more would be granted if there wasn’t the perceived potential risk of political backlash from law abiding voters. Some of these voters cannot make the logical link that the suppression of evidence in a drug dealer’s case translates into a victory, not just for the drug dealer, but for the constitution and the rights of every citizen. Florida’s Judicial Canons 3(b)(2) states, ” A judge shall not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.” TBT commentator “Le Chifre” reacted to TBT’s article by commenting, ” Just wait, the police and LEO unions will attack Judge Andrews when he’s up for retention. They’ll say he’s soft on crime.”
Early in my career I was assigned to Judge Andrews’ division as a young assistant public defender. Soft on crime he is not, I assure you, just ask any criminal defense attorney who has practiced in his courtroom. I will challenge anyone on that point. Caveat, you cannot use Officer Bill as an expert witness. In fact, a well respected criminal defense attorney, Debra Moss, was recruited to run against Judge Andrews by some attorneys unhappy with his demeanor. Pinellas County Public Defender Robert Dillinger, citing issues with his judicial temperament, was also a vocal opponent of Andrews in his 2010 re-election campaign. Now why would some members of the criminal defense bar seek to replace a judge who is “soft on crime.” I suspect that if a defendant were to choose between a bad temper and good deal, the choice is clear. Go ahead and verbally slap me just don’t send me to the graybar motel. I have never seen angelic wings flapping from behind Judge Andrews’ robe. However, I do recall as a young lawyer being called up to the bench at the end of the morning’s docket one day by Andrews who offered an apology for having come off as somewhat irritable. I’ve been practicing law now for over 14 years. In that time, there have been a few judges whose demeanor towards me has been less than ideal, and yet Andrews has been the only one to display that kind of humility. If you ask Ms.Moss’ opinion these days about Judge Andrews’ demeanor since she ran against him in 2010, she’ll have nothing but positive comments to offer.
I’m sure Judge Andrews wasn’t eager to get back to his chambers and pop a bottle of bubbly because attorney Jordan Tawil won on a constitutional argument. Mr. Tawil may have wanted to uncork one though as would any criminal defense attorney. As a young lawyer I witnessed an officer tell the truth one time during a motion to suppress hearing. The officer acknowledged that he had not read Miranda on the stand. He was chastised by the judge in open court for failing to read Miranda. I couldn’t believe the officer said the truth. It would have been so easy for him to lie. In a credibility contest between officers and defendants everyone knows who usually wins. I felt bad for the officer in having to briefly suffer what I thought was an embarrassing moment. I was somewhat irked at the judge in being openly critical in court towards this honest officer. I thought, we want to encourage this type of honesty from officers not inhibit it in the future by fear they will get spanked on the witness stand. The judge granted the motion to suppress. Perhaps the judge’s apparent frustration that day stemmed from the fact that for many judges and citizens it is unsettling to uphold the constitution when the downside is that occasionally a wrongdoer gets a pass. However, a judge with integrity and the willingness to adhere to his/her public oath to the people, will do that very thing. The officer walked away from the stand sort of sheepishly and I did not let him walk out of there before I approached him to shake his hand and give him props for his honesty and immense display of character. He is the type of “officer friendly” that visited my class in the second grade and that I looked up to as a type of superhero. The one I was told as a child would, “protect and serve” not contort the facts in order to get the bad guy. The type of officer that does not rationalize “the end justifies the means” regardless of the constitutional cost. That type of officer does not take kindly to officers who break the law to catch a law breaker.
There are good law enforcement members out there who risk their lives as part of their job description to protect us. Consider that 3 of the 4 officers that testified in this case, they did not collude with officer Bill in matching up their testimony prior to the hearing. They could have done that and Judge Andrews may have believed it. What remedy do we have when an officer lies in violation of the rule of law? Money damages? Immediate termination of the officer? What about not being able to use that evidence? That poisonous fruit? The rationale behind that long standing created judicial remedy is, if we don’t let you use illegally seized evidence, then you won’t seize it illegally. Local criminal defense attorney Harvey Hesse stated, “Most officers are honest. It is up to the defense bar to expose the bad apples. Glad to see the Judge made the right call.” Attorney Donald Harrison commented, “This is an example of the checks and balances the Constitution created. The framers understood power unchecked will destroy this country. Judge Andrews clearly understands his role in the Constitutional scheme.”
Attorney Greg Olney stated, “I have always enjoyed practicing in front of him and have found him to be an exceptionally hard working and perceptive judge. I am not surprised he found a police officer’s testimony incredible in light of the facts of this case. It is not the first time he has declared bulls..t on a law enforcement officer’s testimony. We need more of this kind of insight on the bench.”
Attorneys are the unrecognized fourth branch of government. Kudos to Jordan Tawil and Erin Antonio for aggressively barking up the right tree. “Erin did a good job in cross examining officers Brandon Bill and Vater,” states attorney Tawil. “Kudos to Judge Andrews for tossing the poisonous fruit from that tree and keeping his oath. Judge Andrews, read the comments section in reaction to the TBT news piece, the majority of “we the people” support you. Now would be a good time to say cheers and pop the bubbly, the constitution is alive and well because of courageous jurists. This weekend I toast to you and to all judges across the country who take their oath seriously in upholding the rule of law and do not cut constitutional corners in protecting the rights of the people who have entrusted them to govern.
TBT readers react:
“Yes, people will find some decisions they like and some they don’t. But it isn’t a “ruling in favor of a drug dealer” that has so many happy about the decision, it’s the ruling in favor of a fair and functional justice system that makes even its own agents follow the law.” El Terroristo ”
Good ruling. If Bell is a dealer, he’ll be caught soon enough, legitimately. No need for cops to fabricate evidence. ” Federal Shrinkage ”
This story isn’t about the victim. It’s about the lying cops who think the Constitution is a dish rag. That affects all of us.” Lamar Fandango
“We want to be safe. We are not willing to sacrifice liberty for safety. We expect the police to know, understand, and most importantly embrace the Bill of Rights and the supporting case law. If they can’t do that, then there are other ways they can serve society.” George Mason
“Simply stated, Officers that lie to make a case must find a new career…either voluntarily or involuntarily.” bill4185
“Judge Andrews is known as a no-nonsense judge who is quick to give long prison terms to those he feels deserve them. Not “soft” but he is fair and follows the law.” Largoreader
“Kudos to Judge Andrews. He was one of several Judges involved with my divorce…and one of the best. He understands b.s. better than anyone I’ve ever met. Didn’t always like his rulings, but he’s a straight shooter and has little patience for gamesmanship. A real asset to our community.” Terry Power
“The fact that lawyer cannot recall a judge questioning a cop’s testimony is appalling. Cops lie just like everyone else-and they probably lie more because they know that judges and juries do not question them. I want to congratulate the judge. It takes courage to issue an opinion that goes against law enforcement.” Tony Smith
“judge andrews made the correct call.” bo darville