FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla._Suspended Broward Sheriff Scott Israel lost his fight Tuesday to have the Florida Supreme Court return him to duty.
Now, in all likelihood, it’s up to the voters of Broward County to return him to office _ if they want him back.
The court ruled that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had the constitutional authority to suspend Israel in January for his agency’s failure to adequately respond to mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland and the Fort Lauderdale airport.
The decision all but ends Israel’s attempt to get his job back before the 2020 election _ the Republican-led Florida Senate is able to overrule the governor’s suspension.
“I hope and expect the Senate will look at the merits of the claim,” said Israel’s attorney, Ben Kuehne. “If they do, and do not act politically, then Sheriff Israel will be reinstated.”
Without Senate intervention, the former sheriff’s only chance of returning to his job lies with the voters of Broward County, who elected him in 2012 and re-elected him easily in 2016.
That was before the shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2017 that claimed five lives and the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018 that claimed 17 more.
The failure of the sheriff’s office to implement policy changes after the airport incident was one of the factors that led to the casualty rate at the high school, according to an independent commission that analyzed the response to the Parkland massacre.
DeSantis replaced Israel in January with acting Sheriff Gregory Tony, a veteran of the Coral Springs Police Department.
Israel argued the suspension was politically motivated and usurped the will of voters. The governor’s lawyers said he cited legally acceptable reasons for his action.
Both sides presented their cases before Broward Circuit Judge David Haimes earlier this month _ Haimes ruled in favor of the governor. The removed sheriff’s attorneys appealed, and the case was fast-tracked to the state Supreme Court because of its legal significance.
“Today’s Florida Supreme Court opinion leaves no doubt of my authority as Governor to suspend a government official for neglect of duty and incompetence,” DeSantis said in a formal statement. “Scott Israel failed in his duties to protect the families and students of Broward County and the time for delay tactics is at an end. I look forward to the Florida Senate resuming the process of formal removal.”
Legally, the governor’s bar for justifiably removing Israel from office was low, the Supreme Court ruled. DeSantis needed only to establish that he could cite clear allegations of incompetence or neglect of duty in his decision to remove Israel from duty.
While Israel can still fight his suspension in the Senate, the current legislative session ends May 3, making it unlikely the issue can be resolved before 2020. The senate is led by a Republican majority, and DeSantis is a Republican. Israel ran for office in 2012 and again in 2016 as a Democrat.
Israel has said he intends to run to get his job back in 2020.
(c)2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.