Voters to decide between two candidates who emphasize harsh prosecution, to varying degrees
Numerous 2018 elections have featured competition over who is the strongest reformer. But that’s certainly not the dynamic in the race for state attorney in Florida’s 20th Judicial Circuit, a jurisdiction that covers Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, and Lee counties. In the Aug. 28 GOP primary, former prosecutor Chris Crowley is running against the specter of people roaming the streets despite being arrested “25 or 26 times;” he promises to be tougher than the current state attorney. His opponent, Amira Fox, the assistant state attorney, responds with commitments of her own to prosecute harshly; she has the National Rifle Association’s endorsement. (This primary is very likely to decide the entire election; these are all conservative counties and no Democrat has filed for the position.)
Crowley has attacked the state attorney’s office—and Fox by extension—for having too low a “guilty disposition rate,” namely the share of cases that result in a guilty plea or a conviction. That rate is 82 percent according to state statistics, but Crowley puts it at 39 percent. Why the difference? As the News-Press explains, Crowley includes in his calculation—and effectively treats as failed cases from a prosecutorial standpoint—those arrests that did not produce guilty dispositions because defendants were diverted into alternative resolutions such as a drug court. (Fox defends the circuit’s existing diversion programs.)
This set up one of this campaign season’s great ironies in early August, when Crowley was arrested for violating campaign finance laws. The Naples News describes what happened next: “Crowley signed a pretrial diversion agreement…, which allows first-time offenders to have their charges dropped if they successfully complete the program.”
Crowley has also targeted Fox over her Palestinian heritage. He has done this with the help of Roger Stone, the notorious Republican operative who is advising him. Stone has said that he wishes to “expose” Fox as a “radical Muslim,” and Crowley has sent voters a mailer that claims that Fox has “close family ties to the PLO terrorist organization”; that characterization is based on the fact that Fox’s uncle was involved in the Palestine Liberation Organization through the 1980s, as Fox’s father recounted in his memoir “From Palestine to America.” Stone also helped Crowley secure an appearance on Alex Jones’s “Infowars.” Finally, the Naples News has reported that Crowley resigned and was dismissed from two prosecutorial jobs over the past decade after receiving negative job evaluations in both cases; Crowley attributes these setbacks to having antagonized his colleagues by criticizing them as excessively lenient.
Update: Assistant state attorney Amira Fox won this GOP primary; she will likely be the jurisdiction’s next state attorney since only her name will appear on November’s general election ballot.