Stasia Warren, a Volusia County Court judge for more than 20 years, is running for State Attorney for the 7th Judicial Circuit, challenging R.J. Larizza, a one-term incumbent in the position. The Aug. 14 for State Attorney is also the general election for this race: the winner will be the state attorney regardless, because only two candidates of the same party are running in the race.
Therefore, all registered voters in Flagler County as well as St. Johns, Putnam, and Volusia are eligible to cast a ballot in this case–whether Democratic, Republican, Independent or from a minor party. You may cast a vote regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in. There will be no run-off in this race, no general election: this one is it. It so happens that both candidates are Republican.
The 7th Judicial District is one of 20 districts in Florida. The 7th covers Flagler, St. Johns, Volusia and Putnam. The state attorney is the top cop in the district. The state attorney is the chief prosecuting officer in all criminal courts in the district, representing the state and building criminal cases against defendants, deciding the severity of the charge, dropping charges when evidence is deemed insufficient, and initiating investigations, including grand jury investigations. (See a full list of responsibilities.)
FlaglerLive submitted 15 identical questions to Larizza and Warren, who replied in writing, with the understanding that some follow-up questions may be asked, and that all exchanges would be on the record. Follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in italics, and may be awaiting answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- What qualifies you to run?
- Top priorities
- Most pressing problems in 7th District
- How would you have handled Trayvon Martin case?
- Race relations between cops and residents
- Stand Your Ground
- Gun control
- Casey Anthony and the media
- Cop misconduct
- Rate of conviction
- Prosecuting the innocent
- Communications between State Attorney’s office and law enforcement
- Charging decisions and policies
- Complex cases
- Warren questions to Larizza
- Larizza questions to Warren
Place and Date of Birth: Detroit, Mich., June 5, 1950.
Current job: Was Volusia County Court Judge for more than 20 years before stepping down to run for state attorney.
Political Affiliation: Republican.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak directly to your readers. I am seeking the office of State Attorney to provide the people of the 7th judicial circuit the integrity, stability and competence that they deserve. As a judge, I observed a sharp decline in the morale and effectiveness of the State Attorney’s Office during my opponent’s tenure. By providing stability and integrity, I will restore justice to our criminal justice system.
My 31 years of years of experience in the criminal justice system at every level makes me uniquely qualified for this office. My integrity and service as a judge for the past 21 years offers hope to all involved in the criminal justice system that they will be treated both equally and fairly. The fact that I have support of law enforcement shows they have confidence in my ability. I will not allow a conviction rate statistic to dictate my performance. My goal is to seek justice, not the highest possible conviction rate.
Integrity and openness are the paramount qualities in a State Attorney. As the chief law enforcement officer, the State Attorney should provide guidance to all those involved in the criminal justice system.
A. Stop the revolving door of injustice by prosecuting cases to the fullest extent of the law and targeting career criminals/habitual offenders and seeking the longest prison sentence possible.
B. Restore confidence in law enforcement by communicating with them from the very start of their cases. Have the same prosecutor assigned to a case from start to finish so that there is more continuity and efficiency.
C. Ensure the rights of victims are protected under our laws and constitution. Victims, like law enforcement need consistency with the prosecutors so that they can communicate at every stage of the case.
Regarding (A), those priorities are likely every prosecutor’s priorities, and to some extent they are proscribed–or delimited–by law. In what way would you, for example, stop that revolving door? And given that Florida’s prison sentences have already increased an average of 166 percent since 1990–by far the largest increase of any state in the union–is length of sentence really that much more relevant at this point? May those sentences, in fact, not be part of the problem?
In my answer, I stated one of my three priorities was to prosecute cases to the fullest extent of the law and to target the career criminals and others by seeking the longest prison sentence possible. This is a two-pronged attack on the present policy of the State Attorney, which has resulted in too much probation and not enough prison for criminals. While some do not want to hear this, we are not sending enough criminals to prison. For example, the 7th Circuit (Larizza) sent only 1,641 persons to prison while the 6th Circuit sent 3,167 criminals to prison. Larizza’s office ranked 10th out of 20 state attorney offices in sending criminals to prison. It is not just about the numbers because I believe law enforcement, probation, and the public are not happy with our State Attorney. Florida law (Florida Statute 921.002) states that the primary purpose of sentencing is to punish the offender, and rehabilitation is a desired goal of the criminal justice system but is subordinate to the goal of punishment. In appropriate cases, probation and diversion programs are justified in order to rehabilitate the offender and will be utilized. We are not going to send all felony offenders to prison because that is not necessary. The length of prison sentence, in my opinion, is relevant to stopping the revolving door. Prison sentences are not part of the problem. The revolving door has been created by too much probation (Larizza’s office had 4,163 probation revocation hearings while another state attorney, Angela Corey, only had 957 probation revocation hearings) and not enough prison. Community safety and making the punishment fit the crime will always be my goals as State Attorney, but priorities may change as circumstances dictate.
The Live Interviews:
Flagler School Board
Flagler County Sheriff
The most pressing problem facing law enforcement is the lack of communication with the prosecutors handling cases. This has resulted in a lack of partnership between the law enforcement officers on the street and the State Attorney’s Office. I will demand prosecutors communicate with the arresting officer/investigating officer to not only obtain their input but also to make sure they are aware of the outcome. Officers (along with victims) have unique insight into each case. I have been told by far too many law enforcement officers that they are not being contacted by the State Attorney’s Office on their cases. In addition, law enforcement has advised me that the state attorney’s office is giving away the farm in plea bargaining. Finally, I will make sure we understand each others missions in the criminal justice system.
“… the state attorney’s office is giving away the farm in plea bargaining.” Can you explain what you mean, and relate this to residents’ expectations?
The State Attorney’s Office (SAO) is giving away the farm in plea bargaining by reducing too many crimes, seeking probation far too often and not seeking punishment that fits the crime. Just some examples are: Mark Criswell, a former City of Daytona Beach employee, beat a man so badly that the victim’s eye was almost knocked out and he has permanent damage. The SAO reduced the charge and sought only probation, no prison, no jail! How about Derease Irons who was on probation for Aggravated Battery on a Pregnant Woman? He violated his probation by committing three misdemeanor crimes and absconding (failing to report) for supervision. The probation officer, in her written report, recommended jail. She was not consulted and Irons was placed back on Probation (remember Larizza’s office had 4,163 probation revocation hearings while the Jacksonville SAO only had 957). Within days, Irons was arrested for the felony crime of Child Neglect. Larizza’s office gave state attorney probation to a sex offender, Chase Panem, and did not supervise him. When Panem committed Burglary, Larizza’s office did nothing, hoping another State Attorney would clean up the mess. Ultimately, Panem committed Sexual Battery on a six year old child. If Larizza’s office had violated Panem’s state attorney probation, this child would not have been victimized. Just this past Saturday, an Edgewater man, Michael Earls, was arrested for Robbery. He is in jail on no bond because he was on probation at the time. These examples and many more do not meet the residents’ expectations that the SAO will make community safety the goal.
4. Florida became the focus of national attention after the shooting death of Trevon Martin. Do you believe that had that incident occurred in your jurisdiction, you would have handled it differently, and if so, in what specific ways?
Without knowing all the facts of this case I will not give an opinion on the handling of the prosecution. I can say that my best prosecutors shall participate and provide law enforcement guidance from the onset in cases like this.
During my lifetime great strides have been made in race relations in general in this country. I believe that applies to law enforcement also. That does not mean that we should not work towards even better relations between law enforcement and minorities. I will seek out the best and brightest minority attorneys to better represent our community in the State Attorney’s Office.
But in our own district, which has had its challenges along those lines, and understanding that, of course, relations have improved vastly, how do you assess the state of race relations locally between police and the public today, and where are the fissures?
I believe the state of race relations today between law enforcement and the public is good. Nevertheless, I believe the greatest fissure exists between law enforcement and our youth or younger persons with whom law enforcement comes into contact.
I will carefully consider and analyze the justifiable use of force claim whenever raised by an individual. I support a person’s right to stand his or her ground and use justifiable force in the appropriate situation. These can be life and death situations that are made in a split second. But, I am aware of unintended uses of this law that make a mockery of justice.
7. The shooting deaths of 12 and injury to 58 innocent moviegoers by a lone gunman in Colorado renewed discussions of the 2nd Amendment and federal gun laws. What is your position concerning the right of civilians to own high powered automatic weapons? Would you support the restoration of the ban on assault weapons?
First, I believe in the Second Amendment and an individual’s right to own firearms. In addition, the right of civilians to own high powered (fully) automatic firearms is strictly regulated by the federal government. I do support an individual’s right to own semi-automatic firearms used in hunting and sport shooting.
8. The arrest and prosecution of Casey Anthony in the death of her infant daughter Caylee in Orange County Florida resulted in a finding of not guilty. How do you believe the media attention centered on the case may have impacted the outcome of that case?
I do not believe that the media impacted the outcome of the case.
9. Assuming that the great majority of law enforcement conduct is honorable, there nevertheless are cases of police misconduct you have experienced, as a state attorney or as a judge. Please cite an example or two of such misconduct and how you dealt with it. And tell us how you intend to balance your close relationship with law enforcement agencies with the need to remain independent and objective the moment law enforcement officers act inappropriately.
First, I do believe the great majority of law enforcement officer’s conduct is honorable. I believe in a standard that applies to all, law enforcement and non-law enforcement. I also believe that the great majority of honest and hard working police want the “bad apples” removed from their ranks either by their agencies or prosecution in the appropriate cases. Secondly, we will explain to law enforcement why some cases cannot be prosecuted and why different charges are filed. We will provide the guidance and training to make law enforcement even more effective.
You did not cite examples illustrating your experience with such cases.
Unfortunately, I cannot recall any specific case of police misconduct. As State Attorney though, I will deal with these matters by not filing charges on a case or not proceeding with a case.
10. National District Attorney’s Association states that prosecutors’ individual rate of conviction, or any prosecutor’s office’s rate of conviction, should not be considered in the charging or sentencing decision. Do you agree with this? Is this or should this be the policy of the State Attorney’s Office?
I agree that the conviction rate should not be considered in either the charging or sentencing decision. My office will not be consumed with the goal of obtaining the highest conviction rate possible. We will prosecute cases to the fullest extent of the law (unlike what is presently occurring on a daily basis) and target career criminals/habitual offenders/prison release offenders and seek the longest possible prison sentence. This will result in far more criminals going to prison and making our community safer.
The safeguards begin with the careful analysis of the case for which a person is arrested. When making a decision whether or not to file a charge, that is the best place to ensure an innocent person does not plea to a crime. The threat of prison should not be used to in order to get a plea.
The communications should be in the form of face-to-face conversations, emails, telephone calls and group meetings when appropriate. Whatever it takes to communicate with law enforcement.
The National District Attorney Association’s criteria can assist prosecutors in making charging decisions. However, the easiest policy to use and convey is to charge the most serious crime which can be proven. Prosecutors will use sentencing guidelines to assist in recommendations to the court on sentencing. Each case is different and discretion must be used with the paramount consideration of community safety.
14. How does your office (or how do you propose to) handle specialized and complex criminal enterprises or cases (for example, multiparty white collar crime involving multiple victims or elder crimes) that cannot be handled by the regular trial attorneys? Is there a special unit set up to handle such cases, or do you support such a unit?
I will re-establish the Elder Abuse prosecution unit that existed from approximately 1993 to 2009 when my opponent took office. This unit is necessary because crimes against the elderly like abuse, neglect and financial exploitation are on the rise and we have a large senior population. Financial exploitation of the elderly is a complex crime requiring specialized training not only for investigators but also for attorneys.
I will also consider a specialized unit for white collar crimes which generally involves complex transactions over a period of time. Again, these are extremely detailed investigations which require not only specialized training but experience.
Ms. Warren asked R. J. Larizza the following questions; They are reproduced here without interference or editing from FlaglerLive; the answers will be posted as soon as they are provided.
a. Doesn’t it appear improper to the people who you represent that you handled the Murder case of Benjamin Lightsey? As you know, you and Glenn Lightsey are good friends dating back to your time as a prosecutor in St. Augustine. You even wrote a letter of commendation for Glenn Lightsey in 1998. This case began before you took office and the previous administration spoke to Lightsey’s attorney about a 40 year sentence if he testified against Glenn Lightsey. Isn’t it true that Benjamin Lightsey got only 25 years for beating his wife to death and throwing her body in the ocean?
b. Doesn’t is appear that cronyism exists in your office when you hire Ronald Griffin, a high school friend as an investigator and do not fire him even when an investigation revealed he used his state provided car for personal use? Isn’t it true that the investigator of the Ronald Griffin affair said in his report that other employees including attorneys and investigator were reluctant to report him because he often reminded them that you and he were best friends? Isn’t it true that you did not file criminal charges against him nor did you fire him? What do you think your handling of the Ronald Griffin affair, which included reassigning him from the St. Augustine office to your Bunnell office and then to your Daytona Beach office, says about your management abilities?
c. When you talk about your conviction rate, isn’t it true you do not tell people that your conviction rate only ranks 9th of the 20 state attorneys, you only had only 80 real jury trials out of 10,000 cases, your DUI conviction rate was only 65.58%, you had 4,163 probation revocation hearings when Jacksonville only had 957 and that you ranked 10th out of the 20 state attorneys in sending people to prison?
d. Doesn’t is appear that your Coastal PBA endorsement was bought and paid for because you created the Reserve Investigator program (at the state attorney’s office ) in June of 2011, you swore Vince Champion in as a Reserve Investigator in September 2011 and you paid Vince Scudiero at least $4,000 during this campaign when Champion is the President of the Coastal PBA union and Vince Scudiero is the Political Director of the union.
Why did you knowingly run false ads and continue to run them and use them in your campaign after you acknowledged that they were false and or misleading?
How many death penalty cases have you prosecuted? How many death penalty cases have you tried as a Judge? Are you Death Qualified? How many murder cases have you tried as a defense attorney?
Ms. Warren’s answer to the first question:
Mr. Larizza, you should be ashamed of yourself. Both you and I know that my ads are true. An Elder Abuse prosecution unit existed at the State Attorney’s office from 1993 until January 2009 when you took office. You do not have an Elder Abuse prosecution unit. Mr. Larizza, you do not let the truth stand in your way. In the Nancy Jo Canode murder case, Detective Sean Tice and others believe that sufficient evidence exists to arrest and prosecute at this time. Recently, when you said that my ad could negatively impact the investigation, you knew that was not true. You knew that statement was not true because Detective Sean Tice, in 2011, flew to Texas to interview the prime suspect for 5 hours. But because the suspect did not confess, you will not prosecute. Again, Mr. Larizza, you do not let the truth stand in your way. Finally, you gave Chase Panem State Attorney probation for a sex crime. When Panem committed a Burglary, you did not violate his State Attorney probation. You did nothing to bring him to justice in one of the courts in our community. This allowed Panem to commit a Sexual Battery on a 6 year old boy. You deny responsibility for your inaction. Mr. Larizza, once again, you do not let the truth stand in your way. You should be ashamed of yourself.
Ms. Warren’s answer to the second question:
I not only prosecuted murder cases, but assisted other prosecutors, when I was an Assistant State Attorney from 1980 to 1986 but have not prosecuted any death penalty cases yet. As State Attorney, I will have confidence in experienced Homicide prosecutors like Ed Davis to handle death penalty cases.