(SS) It’s the most far-reaching local political decision Broward voters will make this year.
For the first time in an astounding 44 years, Broward will elect a new state attorney, a countywide prosecutor to replace the retiring Mike Satz, who seems as if he’s been around as long as the courthouse itself. The election comes amid resounding calls for change in a criminal justice system people nationally see as racist and unaccountable.
Democratic voters must size up eight candidates — eight! — for a job that seems so much more important in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of four police officers.
At the Broward state attorney’s office, so many societal factors converge daily: poverty, racism, mental health, substance abuse, police brutality, minimum mandatory sentences, cash bail, racial disparities in sentencing and repeated wrongful incarcerations of innocent people.
The candidates on the Aug. 18 primary ballot all promise change. They range in age from 33 to 62. Five of them were not yet born when Satz took office in 1977 in a place so different from that of today.
The Sun Sentinel editorial board spent three hours this week with them. They all came across as committed and passionate, and any of them would represent a big change from Satz. We will soon publish our recommendation in plenty of time for most voters. You can watch a two-hour forum on Facebook, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, and the ACLU has chosen this race as part of its Justice Voter project.
Such a big field compels voters to do their homework. As someone who covered politics in Broward in the ’80s and ’90s and saw too many mediocre or untrustworthy politicians waltz into office unopposed, it’s healthy to see. Democracy works better when voters have options, and here they are, in the order voters will see them on the ballot:
- David Cannady, 35, an assistant state attorney for five years and former White House staffer in the congressional liaison office of President Barack Obama. His website is davidcannady.com.
- Teresa Fanning-Williams, 50, a former division chief of the career criminal robbery unit in the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office and defense lawyer since 2006. In Satz’s final race, four years ago, she nearly beat him with 48.4% of the vote. electteresawilliams.com
- Joe Kimok, 38, a major crimes lawyer with the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, which represents poor defendants, and a former high school teacher in inner-city Houston. joekimok.com
- Jim Lewis, 62, a lawyer for 40 years, former prosecutor and assistant statewide prosecutor and defense lawyer for the past 27 years. He has run eight times for various offices, including state attorney in 2012. jimlewis4stateattorney.com
- Justin McCormack, 39, a public corruption prosecutor in Satz’s office for the past five years and a former assistant district attorney for two years in Pittsburgh. mccormackforstateattorney.com
- Sarahnell Murphy, 51, a member of Satz’s team for 24 years who oversees 30,000 misdemeanor cases a year in county courts. She has Satz’s support and he has donated $500 to her campaign. sarahnellmurphy.com
- Harold Pryor, 33, an assistant state attorney under Satz for nearly three years who was in-house counsel two years at Hotline Communications, a telecom company. He has been in private practice since 2014. haroldpryor.com
- Joshua Rydell, 38, a defense lawyer since 2008, a former assistant public defender and a Coconut Creek commissioner for the past five years. In this large field of unfamiliar names, he has raised by far the most money, about $219,000 so far. joshuarydell.com
Cannady and Pryor are African-Americans in a county where about 40% of Democratic voters are black. Pryor has the support of the county’s current mayor, Dale Holness. Rydell has the backing of Broward County Commissioner Mark Bogen.
About 609,000 registered Democrats live in Broward. Based on a higher-than-usual primary turnout estimate of 25%, about 150,000 voters will choose the nominee.
Satz is leaving elective office, but Murphy said if she’s elected, she will ask him to continue prosecuting Nikolas Cruz, the accused Parkland killer. The upcoming trial requires massive preparation and Satz has vowed to seek the death penalty for Cruz. Murphy said that is what most victims’ families want.
“I think that is their wish and if that is the case, then I would do that,” Murphy said. “We would have to make an evaluation as far as what the team around him would be ... This community needs to have a finality to that case, to heal." Murphy said Satz’s level of legal experience in capital cases is irreplaceable.
Lewis said he also would let Satz prosecute the Parkland shooter. Rydell, who’s personally opposed to the death penalty, said he would “probably not” keep Satz and is “absolutely” open to a plea deal in the Cruz case that avoids the death penalty. “People need to heal,” Rydell said.
Asked if he discussed the subject of Satz’s role with Satz, Rydell replied, “No.”
Satz recalls it differently. Through spokeswoman Paula McMahon, Satz said in writing: “I do remember a conversation with Josh Rydell when he said that if he was elected, he wanted me to stay on to finish the prosecution of the Parkland case, and was I willing to do that, and I said ‘Yes.’”
The primary winner faces two opponents in November: Republican Gregg Rossman, a former Broward homicide prosecutor, and nonpartisan candidate Sheila Alu, an assistant state attorney and former Sunrise commissioner.
Democrats dominate every major election in Broward, and that’s never more true than when Donald Trump is at the top of the Republican ticket.