Crime

After four decades in office, Broward State Attorney Mike Satz won’t run for re-election

Broward State Attorney Mike Satz announced he won’t be running for re-election in 2020.
Broward State Attorney Mike Satz announced he won’t be running for re-election in 2020. - Broward State Attorney's Office

After more than four decades in office, Broward State Attorney Mike Satz has announced he won’t be running for re-election in 2020.

Satz, 76, is one of the longest-serving elected prosecutors in the country, and often has tried major cases himself. He is handling the death-penalty prosecution of Nikolas Cruz, the teen who killed 17 students and staffers at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.

“I feel it is important to announce my decision now so I can continue to focus on the Parkland case and give a qualified candidate enough time to put forth their campaign for office,” Satz said in a press release issued Tuesday morning.

Satz made the announcement hours before his office announced criminal charges against Scot Peterson, the former Broward schools deputy who was vilified for failing to enter the school and try and stop Cruz’s slaughter.

His decision to not seek re-election will usher in a new chapter for Broward’s criminal justice system, and spur the first open-seat election for State Attorney since 1976.

While Satz is a low-key public official — he shuns the limelight and rarely holds press conferences — he’s had an outsized impact as the top law-enforcement official in Broward County, putting away some of South Florida’s most notorious killers and criminals.

A native of Philadelphia, Satz joined the Broward State Attorney’s Office after graduating from law school at the University of Miami. He rose to become the chief of the homicide unit, then ran for election when former top prosecutor Phil Shailer chose not to seek re-election.

Voters ushered him into office in November 1976. The Democrat was largely re-elected without opposition over the years.

Most recently, he beat attorney Jim Lewis, a Republican, in 2012’s general election. In 2016, he edged out Theresa Williams, a Broward police union-backed attorney, to win his 11th term.

The Broward State Attorney’s Office has over 500 employees, and boasts 212 prosecutors.

Over the years, Satz’s office has been characterized as tough, if conservative. For many South Florida defense lawyers, that’s often led to criticism that his prosecutors were too inflexible when it came to plea deals and sentencing.

Satz was often in the crosshairs of Howard Finkelstein, Broward’s longtime public defender who is also retiring soon. He’d long complained about how Broward treats black men being arrested for low-level crimes such as riding unlicensed bicycles, marijuana possession and jaywalking.

“I am not inclined to speak on his tenure since 1976 as I have been writing letters to him, to editors of newspapers and the Department of Justice about the institutionalized racism apparent and obvious in Broward’s criminal justice system for decades,” he said. “I don’t have anything to add. Both of us retiring is a good thing for our changing community as he and I are the culture wars of the last 40 years. Time to move beyond it.”

Still, legal observers say, Satz had become more open to change in recent years.

His office began hosting workshops to help educate the public on sealing and expunging the records for minor arrests. He also publicly supported civil citations for minor offenses.

“Mike has changed a lot in the last 15 to 20 years,” said Broward defense lawyer David Bogenschutz, a former fellow prosecutor who lost the State Attorney election to Satz in 1976. “We’ve seen a growth in the number of programs that are much more attuned to rehabilitation.”

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Marcus pointed out that Satz was instrumental long ago in helping establish specialized courts for people dealing with drug addiction and mental health problems, as well as for military veterans facing criminal charges.

“I don’t think he’s been given enough credit for what’s he done,” Marcus.

Shevrin Jones, a four-term state Representative who oversees volunteers and internships for the Broward Sheriff’s Office, said Satz was nothing if not fair in the way he handled cases. Jones said Satz also kept close ties with Broward’s black community, which makes up about 30 percent of the county population.

“He’s been a man true to his word,” said Jones, whose father is a pastor and the mayor of the majority-black city of West Park. “Mike Satz has spent a lot of time within the African-American community, which is a third of Broward County. He spends a lot of time at churches. He goes to mentoring events. He sits down with elected officials to learn their policies.”

And he’s also been active in the courtroom itself.

Over the decades, he was known for personally trying many of Broward County’s most violent criminals, most recently the 2018 re-sentencing for Gerhard Hojan, who fatally shot two employees during a robbery at a Davie Waffle House in 2002. A jury sent Hojan to Death Row for the second time.

He was also known for trying cop killers. That included the 22-month trial of three men who murdered Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Tephford. The trial, which ended in early 2018, resulted in three men going to prison for life.

“Mike Satz is a trial lawyer and he’s a damn good one,” said prominent Broward defense lawyer David Bogenschutz, a former fellow prosecutor who lost to Satz in 1976. “His philosophy is that a prosecutors should be a prosecutor, not just an administrator.”

After the Tephford trial, Satz took a trip to Europe and re-discovered his love of skiing, his office said.

He also realized that the demand of the massive Parkland trial, would be too much to juggle with campaigning. The Cruz case features hundreds of witnesses and thousands of pieces of evidence.

“I am definitely not retiring,” Satz said. “When the Parkland case is concluded, I am going to explore some other professional opportunities that I put aside in the past, that will challenge me and give me some time to travel and help me with my bucket list.”

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