In the wake of Operation Court Broom, the state and federal governments' ongoing investigation of corruption in Dade's courts, The Miami Herald decided to take a close look at the system.
Friends of the Court, a three-part investigative series, is the result.
Staff Writers Jeff Leen and Don Van Natta Jr. began last summer by purchasing the court system's computer data bases for caseload and financial information. They then turned the computer tapes over to Stephen K. Doig, Herald research editor.
Working on The Herald's mainframe computer, Doig produced analyses showing the breakdown of cases worked by court- appointed lawyers.
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Using this information, the reporters began collecting copies of the lawyers' bills between 1988 and 1991. Over a period of six months, bills were gathered at the Dade court administrator's office, the Metro-Dade Record Center, Metro- Dade's finance office and the clerk's office at the Metro Justice Building. The reporters copied more than 15,000 documents from court files.
The reporters entered each itemized hour of some of the top money-earning lawyers into a computer. Every hour, taken from dozens of different bills, was entered next to the date that the lawyer claimed it was worked.
By doing that, the reporters were able to tabulate the total numbers of hours each lawyer claimed to have worked on a particular day.
Slowly, it became clear that several lawyers had charged county taxpayers repeatedly for working more than 24 hours in a single day.
The reporters gave the lawyers several opportunities over a six-week period to explain their billing practices. The reporters also showed their findings to Dade Chief Judge Leonard Rivkind and State Attorney Janet Reno.
Graphics were done by Patterson Clark, Bert Garcia and Rick Brownlee. They were edited by Randy Stano, Herald editor for editorial art and graphics. Herald staff photographer Al Diaz also contributed to the series.
Friends of the Court was edited by Herald investigations editor James F. Savage.