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OPINION: Can Palm Beach State Attorney Michael McAuliffe be Trusted?

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OPINION: Can Palm Beach State Attorney Michael McAuliffe be Trusted?

Schwartz (left) and Graham at their arrest in 2009

Like many politicians before him, Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe wants taxpayers to trust him blindly.

They shouldn’t, especially not in a county rife with public corruption and conflicts of interest.

A Democrat married to Circuit Court Judge Robin Rosenberg, McAuliffe rode an anti-corruption tide into local office in 2008.

Three years later, as he prepares for primaries he may have to claw his way through if the popular former State Senator Dave Aronberg decides to run, McAuliffe is wiping egg off his face.

Last month, McAuliffe decided to drop most criminal charges against two former West Palm Beach Police officers who embarrassed the city in 2008. They were caught on their own dashboard video cams roughing up a handcuffed suspect.

While the grainy tape used on CNN showed beyond a reasonable doubt that ex-cops Kurt Graham and Joseph Schwartz kicked and punched robbery suspect Pablo Valenzuela, McAuliffe’s sudden decision came after three years of an investigation that cost hundreds of thousands

Had he done the right thing. McAuliffe would have asked another county’s state attorney to prosecute the case. Instead, McAuliffe decided keep it within his office, forcing himself and his staff to navigate a field rife with conflict-of-interest landmines.

In the end, McAuliffe stupidly blew himself up: Now, he is he facing a complaint with the state’s Commission on Ethics.

Over the past two weeks, Gossip Extra has outlined in three exclusive articles the reasons why the case should have been handled by prosecutors from Martin, Broward or St. Lucie counties:

— Early last month, the Police Benevolent Association’s strongman in Palm Beach County, John Kazanjian, discussed the brutality case with McAuliffe. The latter is desperately seeking the union’s endorsement. The charges were dropped in the wake of the meeting. Was there quid pro quo? The Commission on Ethics will have to figure that out.

Scott Richardson, McAuliffe’s trusted first assistant, represented accused cop Schwartz while in private practice. Within days in April 2010, Richardson went from defending Schwartz to being hired by McAuliffe to lead a staff whose job it was to put Schwartz in jail. McAuliffe claims ethical barriers were erected to prevent Richardson’s involvement in the case, but he won’t elaborate on just what these barriers are.

Michael Salnick, Graham’s lawyer who came up with “new evidence” that convinced McAuliffe to drop the charges, donated $500 to McAuliffe’s reelection campaign eight days after the felony charge against Graham was dropped.

When I asked McAuliffe about the contribution, he responded via email: “Not worthy of a comment!”

Both the arrogance and the disdain for the public in McAuliffe’s response show character flaws that could lead to McAuliffe’s undoing.

He lacks self-confidence while believing he’s infallible.

At the office, several insiders tell me, McAuliffe is known to bristle when his judgment is questioned.

Often, those who don’t recognize his wisdom are placed on a career-ending path.

McAuliffe’s integrity most likely couldn’t be bought for a campaign contribution.

But when it comes to corruption, appearance is everything.

And in the dropped criminal cases against ex-cops Schwartz and Graham, the appearance is that McAuliffe is responding to pressures well beyond those of a blind justice.

For more:

Ethics complaint filed against Palm Beach State Attorney Michael McAuliffe

Top prosecutor represented brutal cop in police beating

Lawyer of disgraced cop donated $ to McAuliffe’s campaign after charges dropped

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