She was brilliant, really, in her dimness.
Dummies everywhere should celebrate Patte Atkins-Grad’s ignominious return to Tamarac city hall this week. Atkins-Grad ought to be their hero. She embraced her inner cretin. She took her own bumbling incompetence and transformed it into a splendid criminal defense strategy.
We now have a new template for other politicians trapped in the sump of their own corruption. (Are you paying attention, David Rivera?) Don’t bother contesting all those inconvenient, incriminating facts. Just transform yourself into a chucklehead.
“There’s a quantum leap between being incompetent and being corrupt,” Kenneth Malnik, her lawyer, told jurors last month. That was apparently enough to allow Atkins-Grad to slither out from under eight felony charges.
It was stunning defense work. Malnik somehow convinced the jurors that Atkins-Grad never quite grasped the unsavory implications when sleazy developers put up $2,300 toward the lease on her new BMW along with $4,000 in other gratuities. She must have assumed it was just coincidence that they were also in desperate need of her vote and commission approval for a controversial project to plop 728 townhouses onto two local golf courses.
Before the trial, Atkins-Grad had even tried a mental incompetence ploy. “There are some definite neurological issues,” Malnik told the Sun-Sentinel in 2011, suggesting that perhaps a mild stroke had left Atkins-Grad “with some abnormalities.”
During the trial, one of the developers, the key prosecution witness, unwittingly bolstered Atkins-Grad’s defense, telling jurors she was “dumber than a post.” Ultimately, his characterization was worth more to the commissioner than the money he had spent greasing her vote. It kept her out of jail. As one of the jurors told the Sun-Sentinel, “If I could convict a person for being stupid, she’d be at the top of my list.”
But an acquittal, particularly an acquittal based on stupidity, is not exactly redemption. Atkins-Grad’s return to her commission seat this week was met with considerable outrage. “This redefines the word chutzpah,” said Alvin Entin, a well-known criminal defense lawyer himself. “This woman never claimed that she didn’t take a bribe. She said she was too stupid to know it was a bribe.”
Entin, who has lived in Tamarac since 1996, launched a “Recall Patte Atkins-Grad” Facebook page. “We’ve had 10,000 hits,” he told me Wednesday. He promised to get a formal recall petition under way within the next week or so. Otherwise, he said, the city will be stuck with Atkins-Grad, and her oblivious ways, for the remaining two years of her term.
Florida once had a famously ordinary judge, Harrold Carswell, nominated by Richard Nixon in 1970 for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nebraska Sen. Roman Hruska offered a tepid defense of the doomed nomination: “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they?”
If Entin’s recall drive succeeds, voters in Tamarac can decide whether stupid people are similarly entitled.