Broward County

Lawyer in Senate review of Broward sheriff’s removal from office receives death threat

The lawyer hired by the Florida Senate who recommended suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel be reinstated has received a death threat, Senate officials said Thursday.

Katie Betta, spokesperson for Senate President Bill Galvano said that Dudley Goodlette, the Naples lawyer who served as the “special master” in the Senate hearing on Israel’s suspension was threatened shortly after he made his recommendation last month.

Israel was suspended in January by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who blamed the sheriff’s management for last year’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Israel appealed to the Senate, which has the power to investigate and reverse a governor’s suspension.

Goodlette was hired by the Senate to review the governor’s and Israel’s claims and, after a two-day hearing in June, produced a report that went public on Sept. 25. In it, Goodlette concluded the shooting was a “culmination of individual failures,” and recommended the Florida Senate return Israel to his elected position atop the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

“Sheriff Israel and the BSO are not blameless for the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas,” Goodlette wrote. “The evidence offered has not demonstrated that Sheriff Israel should be removed from office based on this incident,’’ Goodlette concluded.

In the 34-page report, he repeatedly said that DeSantis’ attorneys had failed to prove that Israel had overseen institutional failures that led deputies to miss warning signs about the Parkland shooter and botch the response to the attack at the school.

“While the governor has offered a plethora of criticism, he has not shown that Sheriff Israel’s policies, procedures or training on active shooter situations were inconsistent with Florida law enforcement standards,’‘ Goodlette wrote.

Betta said “the threat was received not long after Mr. Goodlette’s report became publicly available” and Galvano deemed it “very serious.” Goodlette did not respond to a request for comment.

Goodlette’s findings are not binding. They will be presented to the Florida Senate during a three-day special session of the Senate starting Monday.

During a daylong meeting of the Senate Rules Committee scheduled for Oct. 21, the Republican-dominated committee will vote to support or reject Goodlette’s recommendation. The full Senate will then vote on Oct. 23 whether to permanently remove Israel or reinstate him.

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After the death threat, Betta said Galvano directed the Senate sergeant at arms to alert the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and is now coordinating with Capitol Police “to ensure the safety of all visitors, staff and Senators attending meetings” related to the case. FDLE said it was working with the Collier County Sheriff, which has opened an investigation into the threat to Goodlette.

Galvano also has requested “enhanced security precautions and protocols, which are confidential, be in place for the proceedings,’’ Betta said.

But tensions remain high. DeSantis has publicly rejected Goodlette’s finding, and the governor is paying outside lawyer and former legislative general counsel George Levesque $395 an hour to beef up his legal team in presenting its case to the Senate. Both Levesque and DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, Stephanie Kopelousos, have been making the rounds this week lobbying senators to reject Goodlette’s recommendation.

On Monday, parents of the Parkland victims held a press conference to urge the Senate not to reinstate Israel, who has said he will seek reelection next year, regardless of whether he is reinstated before then.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

Mary Ellen Klas is the capital bureau chief for the Miami Herald, where she covers government and politics and focuses on investigative and accountability reporting. In 2018-19, Mary Ellen was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and was named the 2019 Murrey Marder Nieman Fellow in Watchdog Journalism. In 2018, she won the Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. The Herald’s statehouse bureau is a joint operation with the Tampa Bay Times’ statehouse staff. Please support her work with a digital subscription. You can reach her at meklas@miamiherald.com and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas.
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