Lawmakers and lawyers clamored to join the task force set up by Gov. Rick Scott to examine Florida’s justifiable homicide laws after Trayvon Martin’s shooting death.
The clamoring turned to confusion when Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, whom Scott designated co-chair, explained how the panel’s members were chosen.
"What we did was go to the individuals that seek our approval to be on the task force. We didn’t go out asking people," she said at an April 19 news conference. "They came to us with an interest in this review, and those are the people of the pool that we went and looked at, who would be best to serve on this task force given the diversity of the state."
Reporters asked Carroll about Sen. Chris Smith, a South Florida Democrat and prominent "stand your ground" critic who publicly asked to be on the panel.
"He did not apply," Carroll said. "We went with the application, people that sent in information who were interested in serving on this task force."
Carroll’s comments immediately surprised some lawmakers. As we heard doubts about an application process, we started digging up more information about how the committee came together.
Was Carroll accurate that no one recruited people to the task force?
In March, Scott said the task force would be led by Carroll and the Rev. R.B. Holmes of Tallahassee and comprised of appointees from Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Dean Cannon, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senate President-designate Don Gaetz and House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford.
Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, who was chosen to sit on the 19-member task force, said he knew nothing about an application. He simply told Haridopolos he was interested. The same goes for Smith. (Read Smith’s letter to Haridopolos.)
"When the governor announced his task force, he stated who he’d get recommendations from," said Smith, who started his own task force to look into the law. "I called those people and expressed my desire to serve. And I’ve expressed publicly in many news outlets my desire to serve. So I was surprised that there was an application process that I did not know about."
Here’s what we know about the process. In short, some members were chosen because they asked to be, like Carroll said. But we found several cases where task force members said explicitly that they were recruited, some by Carroll’s own chief of staff.
Haridopolos, the Senate president, recommended Scott choose one senator from a list of seven senators that included four Democrats -- Larcenia Bullard of Miami, Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Siplin and Smith -- and three Republicans -- David Simmons of Altamonte Springs, Andy Gardiner of Orlando and Greg Evers of Crestview, according to a March 28 letter.
Siplin and Simmons made the cut.
Cannon also made a recommendation. Unlike Haridopolos, he went outside of his chamber. Public records show the House speaker recommended Orlando attorney Derek Bruce, who filled out a standard questionnaire for gubernatorial appointees.
"The speaker reached out to Mr. Bruce and recommended him to the governor because he thought he would be a good fit for the task force," said House spokesman Ryan Duffy.
There’s no evidence in House records that Bruce lobbied Cannon to be on the task force.
Speaker-designate Weatherford also had some picks: Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the 2005 "stand your ground" law, and Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Republican from Sanford, where Martin was shot.
When Baxley heard Scott’s instructions, he told us that he called Weatherford and asked him to submit his name for the task force.
Brodeur didn’t ask to be on the task force. But he readily agreed to it when Weatherford called, he said.
Bondi nominated two law enforcement leaders, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and Florida State Police Chief David Perry, to the task force a week later. She approached them, spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said. No application.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told us she received an out-of-the-blue call about joining the committee from Carroll’s chief of staff, John Konkus.
"He said that they would like me to be on it," she said. "I asked some questions about who else was on there, what was the time frame."
She accepted his offer the next morning. "I consider it a real duty," she said.
So does Gretchen Lorenzo, a crime prevention coordinator for the Fort Myers police department. She said Konkus called the department, requesting that she be placed on the task force.
"I was appointed," she said. "It was a great opportunity for our city."
Task force member Maria Newman, 64, who stopped volunteering with her neighborhood crime watch unit two years ago, tells a similar story. She said a friend on the Melbourne Police Department asked her if she wanted to be on the task force.
"I look at it as I’m taking a journey," Newman said. "Hopefully my little voice will go a long ways."
Miami community organizer Edna Canino deflected when asked about whether she was recruited onto the task force or volunteered herself, saying "I don’t think that’s important at this time."
So we know several members of the task force were essentially recruited by Carroll, Cannon or Bondi. It puts a hole in Carroll’s claim that the selections were entirely based on people who "came to us with an interest in the review."
We did find one person to support that claim: Tampa criminal defense attorney Joe Caimano, who emailed Cannon about serving. In an email, he wrote that his experience litigating "stand your ground" cases would be valuable. He ended up on the task force, though we’re not sure who made the decision since Cannon only recommended Derek Bruce.
We made a public records request for all correspondence -- including any "applications" -- between those interested in the task force and the governor’s office on April 19, shortly after the news conference ended. It remained unfulfilled as of May 2, although the governor's office said it would get back to us shortly.
A spokeswoman for Scott clarified Carroll’s comments on April 25, a week after the request, saying, "There was no formal application process."
Spokeswoman Jackie Schutz added: "Sen. Smith never made his interest in serving on the task force known to our office."
Konkus also called us on May 2 to explain there were no cold calls, but that some people had been recommended without their knowledge. "Several people had their names put forward from other voices across the state," he said.
Carroll said "we didn’t go out asking people" to join the task force charged with examining Florida’s "stand your ground" law. "They came to us," she said.
This was accurate for several members, including Baxley, Siplin and Caimano (there could be more, but we can’t know that without Scott’s office fulfilling our records request).
But we found several instances of the panel’s organizers inviting people to join, including a state attorney and crime prevention coordinator personally recruited by Carroll’s top aide.
That's not how Carroll put it at the news conference, when she spoke of an application process. We rate Carroll’s claim False.