After 35 years of practicing law, since graduating Hofstra University School of Law in 1975, I have learned that some causes are worth fighting for. I have made a reputation for myself undertaking them.
That’s why, in August of 1987, when Elvy Mussika, a 60 year old grandmother in Hollywood, California was busted for growing marijuana in her backyard, I told her to fight it. You see, even though pot was against the law, and she did possess it, I argued that she had a medical necessity defense. I told her that the ameliorative effects of fighting her glaucoma with smoking marijuana trumped the state’s right to say she could not possess it. The defense was unprecedented, but we prevailed. 20 years later, 20 states allow you to smoke pot medically. When you tear down the iron curtain, barriers fall.
I think it was around 1994 when a couple of dozen gay men were arrested for soliciting and committing lewd acts on Deerfield Beach. The cops had heard that the area was becoming a haven for turning tricks, so for good measure anything and everyone gay was virtually getting rounded up. But the cops played dirty, as they were the ones who approached, solicited and induced everyone they thought was gay. So if you expressed interest in the undercover officer, even if you simply offered to go back to your apartment with him, you were the one who went to jail. I stood up and said hell, no. I charged the cops with creating the crime, and the gay men with doing no wrong. Court after court agreed, and every case was thrown out based on illegal entrapment.
Sometimes, as a lawyer, you have to pave the way with unique arguments. That is what Mikey Verdugo has done all year. He was a gay cop fired from Hollywood for purportedly failing to disclose on his employment application in 2001 that he did a paid gay porno one weekend in 1996. For seven years, he served the department as a great gay cop, earning accolades for his undercover work which garnered a small fortune for the department in forfeited drug monies.
Mikey, however, was openly gay, and had filed some complaints against his superiors for sexual discrimination. They were sustained, but the department wanted to get even. They got their pound of flesh when they found an out to deep six him for failing to disclose the porn shoot on his nine year old employment application. If he had done a Shakespearean play, no one would have cared. But it was porno, gay porno. And we can’t have a cop like that, said the very department that has been disgraced by corruption, mismanagement and federal indictments, the laughingstock of the entire county. So they fired Mikey, but the State would not buy into this crap. Last summer, they sustained his right to be a cop anywhere in the state. They would not fire him, but the joke that is Hollyweird did.
Mikey decided to fight the ruling an arbitrator made, which had said his termination was legal. After coming to our paper to tell his story, Mikey recruited George Castrataro to undertake and advocate his battle in the courts. Castrataro forcefully argued last week that invidious and silent discrimination corrupted the arbitration process with bias. It was a courageous argument, as significant for the gay rights movement as the invidious discrimination that was once argued in court for Negro Americans denied an equal right to an education, which led to cases changing the face of White America to a pluralistic, diverse society.
That is how important the argument Mikey made was last week.
Yes, it is a unique and novel argument, just as Elvy saying she had a right to grow pot; just as gays rousted on public beaches rightly argued they were wronged. Mikey was laying claim to a new day. You see, it’s always been the same old story. From the moment, we could talk, gays were ordered to listen. Don’t rock the boat. Live in the closet. Be discreet. But it’s a different day, and we are seeking a newer world. Mikey Verdugo’s cause is your cause.
Last week, a judge regretfully chose the status quo, lacking the insight to grasp or understand that Mike never should have been fired and the arbitrator’s affirmation of that unjust decision countenances further injustice. He took his lumps, and lost the battle. But Hollywood wants to continue the war. Its counsel, Joel Cantor, now wants to go to court and argue that Mikey should pay the city’s attorneys fee. Well, first of all, these guys are paid salaried employees, and they should not be unjustly rewarded for doing the job taxes pay them to do. But they should be censured for still asking for a pound of flesh from a guy fighting for his civil rights, aided by an attorney helping him for free.
So here is the deal, ladies and gentlemen of the city commission of Hollywood. Do not become this year’s Jim Naugle. Call off your dogs, because they are rabid and their cause is unjust. You won your battle and exposed your recently disgraced police department as homophobic and vengeful. You won your battle and have landed on the wrong side of history. But now you have one small, iota of a chance to redeem yourself. Direct your city attorney, the belligerent Joel Cantor, to close the file on this case.
You prevailed, to your disgrace. You won, to your shame. That history will stain you forever ought to be enough. Do not humiliate yourself further. Pass a resolution telling him to cease and desist, and directing him to withdraw his petition for legal fees, or face the wrath of the largest gay demonstration in the history of South Florida on your commission steps.
Please do not consider this a threat. This is a promise. This is simply a statement of fact of what we will do back to you if you allow this to be done to us. Mikey Verdugo should tell you something. Gays do not roll over and play dead anymore. We fight back and remind everyone we are very much alive.
It seems to me that a department riddled with the corruption of officers falsifying police reports, filing false crash reports, trafficking in heroin, and the target of an FBI sting that landed senior brass in jail has other things to worry about. I mean, how many other departments earned a website terrorisminblue.com? Enough said, move on; let Mikey go.