Nelson A. Pryor, Guest Columnist
All America abhorred corruption. But did the Florida Legislators of the 1950’s?
The Grand Jury
Corruption issues are the traditional bread and butter of investigations for the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury was also empowered to make indictments, requested by the States’ Attorney, for criminal activity.
Each county in Florida has a Grand Jury, consisting of around 18 to 20 county residents. Called together, these citizens investigate the issues brought to them by law officials. Or, traditionally, investigations of subjects they originate, as they see fit, a system recognized back to the Magna Charta, of 1215 A.D.
In the 1950’s, the Legislature of Florida emasculated the Grand Jury’s power to initiate investigations on its own. It was then that the Grand Jury lost its autonomy. In fact, it was then that the Grand Jury lost its investigatory powers.
“Pork Chop” gang
It was the 1950’s that saw the Pork Chop Gang, the North Florida Democrats, rule Florida, through legislative manipulations. The infamous “Pork Chop” Gang was out for the gold, or, silver, whatever, as long as it was green! Their only concern was to keep their deeds from being found out. Before the U. S. Supreme Court case, Baker vs. Carr 1962, on re-apportionment, the North Florida Legislators dominated the State government.
That Supreme Court decision took power away from the rural areas and put metropolitan areas in the legislative driver’s seat.
The North Florida Pork Chop Gang had lost their clout in the Legislatures, as the populations of the central and southern part of the state, took charge. But a skeleton was left, a time bomb. What the Gang had done to the once mighty Grand Jury remained buried.
Mr. Terry Trussell, of Dixie County, stumbled upon this remnant skeleton, as Foreman of the Dixie County Grand Jury.
Thinking that the Grand Jury was not the play thing of the states attorney, or anyone else, as Foreman, Mr. Trussell set about carrying out its traditional functions.
It was then that Mr. Trussell came up against that corrupt law of the Pork Chop Gang which precluded what he thought the Grand Jury was historically organized for.
Siegmeister admits it
Jeffrey Siegmeister, state attorney for the 3rd Judicial Circuit, of Florida, which includes Dixie County, presented in a “sworn, written Petition,” told the Court that : “First and foremost Terry Russell (sic.), during a period he was a sworn juror and foreperson of the Grand Jury of Dixie County, Fl, and out of his apparent frustration with the manner in which the lawful grand jury was proceeding upon matters he desired to be investigated, did instigate investigations of matters outside the presence of the Grand Jury and without any legal authority bestowed upon him by the other Grand Jury panel members or otherwise under Chapter 905 or the instructions of the Court.” (Posted Sept. 23, 2014)
A Hornets Nest
The Pork Chop Gang had done their job well. Investigations had been stymied; in the meantime, citizens thought they were being protected by the Grand Jury. And Terry Trussell, one veteran of the Vietnam war, said, upon learning of this sham, said: “the king has no clothes!”
Is There Corruption?
Citizens want to know: “Can Corruption Be Investigated? The “Pork Chop” Gang wanted no investigations. Is that the position of the law today? Citizens want investigations of corruption, as needed. If it’s not to be the Grand Jury that undertakes, that role, who or what does? Restoration of the full powers of the Grand Jury would go a long way to reassure citizens that our government is on the level.
Go back to the old newspapers, on microfilm, and notice the written annual reports of the Grand Jury, as recorded therein. The variety and extent of their annual reports would astoundthis generation. That’s why the Pork Chop Gang had to emasculate those powers! And they have succeeded until now!
We need a new broom, both in our counties, and in our Legislature. Restore our Grand Juries to their traditional role! North Florida Legislators buried the Magna Charta, of 1215 A.D., let them now take the lead in reviving it!