TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Arguing that proceedings resulting in his ouster “were little more than a sham,” former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel wants a federal judge to reject a request by Senate President Bill Galvano and Gov. Ron DeSantis to toss out a lawsuit challenging Israel’s removal from office.
Lawyers for Galvano and DeSantis last month filed briefs seeking dismissal of the lawsuit, in part arguing that the Senate is shielded from liability for legislative acts. The Senate held a special session in October and removed Israel from office after DeSantis suspended him because of alleged “neglect of duty and incompetence” related to two mass shootings in Broward County.
The Senate’s removal of the veteran law enforcement officer came after a special master, appointed by Galvano, recommended that the Senate reinstate Israel.
Israel “has been removed from office without any factual showing of cause and without having had an opportunity to know the information on which the Senate relied,” his lawyer, Benedict Kuehne, argued in court documents filed Monday.
“Nor has he been given the benefit of a fair hearing at which he was able to respond to the accusations and facts alleged to be against him,” Kuehne wrote, adding “the resulting process of suspension and removal offends constitutional notions of due process and substantive and procedural fairness.”
Seeking to have the court dismiss Israel’s lawsuit, Galvano’s lawyers argued that the Senate’s “actions are quintessential legislative acts which are protected under the privilege of legislative immunity.”
But Kuehne asked U.S. District Judge William Stafford to reject that argument.
“Legislative immunity is not available to the Florida Senate because the suspension review and removal from office is not a legislative function similar to setting policy or passing legislation. The Senate’s process is akin to a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding,” Kuehne wrote. “The nature of the challenged conduct here is not consistent with the traditional legislative process immunizing legislatures and legislators. Accordingly, the court must reject the Senate president’s claim of legislative immunity.”
Israel’s lawyer also argued that the Senate removed the former sheriff “without affording him a fair and reasonable opportunity to contest the ‘evidence’ on which his suspension and removal was based.”
Kuehne pointed out that the Senate special master found that DeSantis’ lawyers failed to present adequate evidence to justify Israel’s removal.
“But when the governor opposed the special master’s ruling, the Florida Senate relied on suspicion, innuendo, and unnoticed speculation to declare that Sheriff Israel must be removed from office,” Kuehne wrote.
In one of his first acts after taking office in January 2019, DeSantis suspended Israel, accusing him of incompetence and neglect of duty for the sheriff’s office’s handling of the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and faculty members dead and a mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2017 that killed five people.
Israel fought for his job in the Senate. Rejecting Special Master Dudley Goodlette’s recommendation that he be reinstated, the Senate voted 25-15 during the October special session to remove Israel from office.
The lawsuit contends, in part, that the Senate improperly considered new information during the special session without “affording Sheriff Israel any meaningful opportunity to investigate, contest, or respond to the information.”
But the Galvano brief filed in late January said Israel “was afforded meaningful process above and beyond what the federal Constitution requires.”
Israel, a Democrat, also is trying to get his old job back at the ballot box this year. He’s running against current Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony, who was appointed by DeSantis.
(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam contributed to this report.)