A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Former Prosecutor's Side Business: Testifying Made Simple

With no fanfare, this story hit the South Florida Sun-Sentinel yesterday.

The headline?

"County commissioner's daughter paid to teach deputies how to testify."

The focus of the story? Well, it began with this:

The daughter of Palm Beach County Commissioner Jess Santamaria has received more than $56,000 in taxpayer money to teach sheriff's deputies how to testify in court.

Yes, rile up mom and pop taxpayer - the story is nepotism - the daughter of a politician got a gig at the expense of taxpayers.

Then we have the "oh, by the way:"

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw signed a contract with Michelle Santamaria last year, after she proposed the classes for deputies and sergeants. The office had never offered training in court testimony, Bradshaw said.

Of course continuing on the focus of the story being the use of taxpayer dollars, we have the typical and shallow denials:

Bradshaw and both Santamarias said Jess Santamaria's position as a commissioner had nothing to do with his daughter's contract.

Right, nothing. Nothing at all.

But maybe this had something to do with it:

Michelle Santamaria, a former prosecutor in the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office, said she came up with the idea to start a company, called Testifying Made Simple, while working as a prosecutor. She left the job after securing the contract with the sheriff's office.

Her experience with witnesses is typical of the new social media types who have found a way to convince others they are "experienced:"

"I loved being a prosecutor, but with the case load and the volume, I had very little time for family and friends," Santamaria said. "After about a year, I already let them know I was on the way out. I had had this seed planted from being a prosecutor."

Santamaria, 32, said she called Bradshaw's office and requested a meeting with him. She later presented Bradshaw with a business plan.

The Sheriff was concerned: "We had several comments from different prosecutors saying your deputies just aren't doing well in court. They just haven't had the training. They don't get it in the police academy."

In comes the county attorney with the clearance: In a letter to the county, C. Christopher Anderson, the commission's chief assistant general counsel, said the contract did not create a conflict of interest for the commissioner.

Yep. No conflict of interest paying a county commissioner's daughter taxpayer money to teach cops to testify.

Did you see the elephant walk out of the room while you were reading about the mice?

The classes apparently are a big, big hit:

Since signing the contract in December 2008, Michelle Santamaria has held 103 training classes for the sheriff's office. She was paid $550 for each four-hour class, according to her contract. She will teach a final session this month.

And that's the end of the story. Nothing even coming close to questioning this practice. Nothing from a defense lawyer about whether this is fair ground for cross examination.

"So, officer, can you tell us about your participation in "Testifying Made Simple?"

"Well yes counsel, I was student of the week 3 times." "In fact, you see me always looking at the judge and jury, and not at you when I testify? I learned that. Did you hear me chuckle a little when you asked me about your client's confession? That brings me closer to juror #3 who seems to like me and not you." Do I look threatening and agressive to you? That's because I have learned to be a bit more laid back. I also learned a new answer, it goes like this: "the answer is whatever is in the report." See that, I don't have to really answer your question or let the jury know the truth, that I really don't remember.

This is a disgrace. That the paper doesn't even lead the reader to the question of whether this is appropriate is pathetic.

The issue is not taxpayer money being paid to the daughter of a politician. Shame on you reporters.

The issue is the manipulation of our criminal justice system, with taxpayer money.

There is no training in the police academy regarding testifying because testifying IS simple - tell the truth.

Although there seems to be less and less of that, and thus, the need to teach sworn law enforcement how to testify is the result.

Very few reading that story picked up on the left-out angle of that story. I doubt there will be a follow up cry to the editor about anything, and if there is, it will be about the taxpayer dollars issue.

The truth seems to be lost, on everyone.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com


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