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Florida judge dismisses perjury charge against J’can former school superintendent

Published:Wednesday | May 3, 2023 | 12:25 AMLester Hinds/Gleaner Writer

FLORIDA:

A JUDGE in Florida has dismissed a charge of perjury brought against the former schools’ superintendent of Broward County, Jamaican, Robert Runcie.

Circuit judge Martin Fein dismissed the grand jury’s 2021 indictment against Runcie agreeing with defence attorneys that state law only gives the statewide grand jury jurisdiction over crimes that occurred in multiple counties. Runcie only testified in one.

His attorneys argued that if the statewide grand jury had evidence of Runcie committing perjury it should have turned such evidence over to the Broward County grand jury or the local state attorney’s office for consideration.

The judge dismissed the prosecution’s argument that the grand jury could indict for any crime involving the jury’s sanctity and integrity, saying it had no legal support.

The office of Florida attorney general said prosecutors are reviewing the judge’s decision and will likely appeal his ruling.

Prosecutors had contended that Runcie lied repeatedly to the grand jury when asked about the criminal case against his former technology chief. They said Runcie told the grand jury that he had not contacted anyone about the case and his only knowledge of the contract was from a presentation made earlier. The prosecutors contended that Runcie contacted others only days before he testified.

Runcie and the Broward School board negotiated his resignation and a $740,000 severance package shortly after the indictment.

The case against Runcie stemmed from questions over the management of a one billion-dollar bond issue and he was charged with lying to a grand jury. In its final report the grand jury had accused him of making misinformed or uninformed statements about plans to use the money for school safety in Broward County.

SURPRISE INDICTMENTS

Runcie, who was appointed Broward County schools’ superintendent in 2011, was born in Jamaica and was named superintendent of the year in 2015 by his fellow superintendents.

He was arrested and charged with perjury as part of a statewide grand jury spawned by the school massacre in Parkland, more than three years ago.

He was indicted on a charge of perjury in an official proceeding, a third degree felony.

However, both Runcie and the district’s chief lawyer, who was also arrested on a single perjury charge, say they don’t know why they were arrested.

The surprise indictments just days after the grand jury meeting sparked questions and outrage among supporters of Runcie.

The indictment raised claims of political influence but his critics, who have blamed him for the Parkland shooting tragedy, had cheered the indictment.

The grand jury was empanelled in 2019 by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, after a teenage gunman with a semi-automatic weapon killed 17 staff and students and wounded 17 others.

Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested the then 59-year old Runcie for testimony he gave to the grand jury on March 31 and April 1.

His indictment said he gave untruthful testimony before the grand jury and listed four areas which the panel had directed its focus.

The grand jury’s primary focus was to review school safety in the wake of the shooting, but it was expanded to include corruption and mismanagement in school district operations.