Monday, December 18, 2017
Opinion

State's idea of timely justice not so speedy

During the 2013 session of the Florida Legislature, our rootin'-tootin', pistol-packing, crime and punishment lawmakers passed something called the Timely Justice Act, which was designed to make it easier to start executing condemned inmates by streamlining the appeals process for capital cases.

But the Timely Justice Act is really a misnomer. The bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott more appropriately should have been titled: "The Timely Justice Act — Unless We Have Something Better To Do On Execution Day."

When the state finally gets around to it, no one is likely to mourn for Marshall Lee Gore, who has been on Florida's Death Row since 1988 for the murders of two women, Robyn Novick in Miami-Dade County and Susan Marie Roark in Columbia County.

After exhausting his appeals, Gore was scheduled to walk the last mile to the death chamber today for Novick's death. Instead, the condemned man has been given a few more weeks to contemplate his last meal courtesy of Florida's law-and-order governor.

Scott advised Florida State Prison Warden John Palmer last month that he was extending Gore's death warrant to Oct. 1 because of a scheduling conflict for Attorney General Pam Bondi. That only makes sense. If you're going to impose society's most severe sanction on an inmate, it is a good idea to have the state's chief law enforcement officer on duty to deal with any last-minute legal matters.

What was the pressing conflict on Bondi's calendar?

Was the attorney general of Florida preparing a complex legal brief in advance of an argument before the U.S. Supreme Court? Or was she scheduled to deliver a major address before the American Bar Association? Or maybe she was set to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Royal Order of St. Bernard Breeders?

Alas, no.

Apparently a double murderer has had his life extended because Bondi had more pressing business to attend to: a re-election campaign fundraiser in her honor at a Tampa waterfront home.

On the same day Gore had been scheduled to utter his last words, Bondi will be toasted at a campaign event hosted by a who's who of Florida: House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; Republican state Sens. Jack Latvala, Bill Galvano, Wilton Simpson, Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes; and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat.

Scott never provided Warden Palmer with any details regarding why Bondi wouldn't be available for Gore's execution — and told reporters he didn't ask Bondi for a reason but was merely trying to accommodate a Cabinet member.

A public relations factotum for the attorney general initially explained the fundraiser was set long before Gore's execution date, but Bondi acknowledged late Monday it was wrong to delay the execution for the fundraiser. But now the execution is reset to avoid changing the schedules of deep-pocketed friends 14 months before the 2014 election.

Bondi will soon have to defend the Timely Justice Act before the Florida Supreme Court. How does she do that with a straight face?

For 25 years the friends and families of Gore's victims, Novick and Roark, have waited. They've endured the trials, the appeals, the stays of execution. In passing the Timely Justice Act this year, it was just such family suffering that pro-death-penalty lawmakers, Scott and Bondi all evoked in justifying the changes.

What does Bondi say now? "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to wait just a bit longer before Marshall Lee Gore is put to death. Something more important came up.

"Which reminds me, would you care to make a contribution for all I've done for you?"

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