Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe will be sorely missed by at The Palm Beach Post when he fades into the private sector in two weeks.
In an email dated Nov. 2, 2011, Rhonda Swan, one of the shrinking newspapers’ remaining editorial writers, bypassed the proper channels and asked McAuliffe to get involved in an investigation.
She asked him to check into why drug investigators claimed to have found her medical records at the office of a chiropractor stripped of his license for dispensing thousands of Oxycontin pills to addicts!
McAuliffe, who made ridding the county of pill mills his cause celebre, replied he’d check into it. Never mind that the doctor, John Christensen, was under criminal investigation!
In other electronic exchanges, Randy Schultz, the newspaper’s Editorial Page Editor, coached McAuliffe on how to write op-ed pieces published in the Post, editorials where McAuliffe refuted criticisms of his administration or advanced his political agenda.
In one instance, Schultz and McAuliffe debated on what day of the week it would be best for a McAuliffe article to run. They opted for a Saturday because, Schultz explained, it’s a high-circulation day.
Swan didn’t comment and Schultz didn’t respond to a request for a discussion about the emails, 264 of them.
Publisher Tim Burke has a policy not to comment on stories in Gossip Extra. But having worked at The Post for six years, I can confirm that company policy clearly discourages the type of relationship that longtime editor Schultz and Swan carried on with McAuliffe.
This much is clear: Reporters at The Post started to examine some of McAuliffe’s questionable decisions late last year — months after independent sites like Gossip Extra and BizPacReview, and the Seaview AM 960 law enforcement talk show The Beat (which I co-host with retired cops Rick Sessa and Dan Henry) documented low morale, low conviction rates and lack of follow-through in the prosecution of cops.
While most reporters in West Palm Beach were forced to submit even the simplest questions for McAuliffe to SA public information official Sarah Alsofrom, Swan took McAuliffe for a legal gopher, according to the batch of emails.
She often asked McAuliffe about points of law and the legislative process, and even the schedule of court hearings she was interested in. She started one email with “Hello, State Attorney!”
McAuliffe actually took the time to answer, sometimes patiently and painstakingly, sometimes filling page after page.
But of all the exchanges between Swan and McAuliffe, the one that took place Nov. 22, 2011 stands out.
“I received a letter from your office,” Swan writes to McAuliffe, “saying that my medical records were found in (disgraced Dr. John Christensen‘s) office and he is under investigation. I have no idea who this doctor is and don’t recall ever going to his office. . . . I’m dying to know how my medical records got in his office . . . Any information you can share would be much appreciated.”
McAuliffe’s answer: “Interesting. I will have someone follow up and let you know. I suspect it is a mix up on the name. Thanks. Michael.”
No other email referred to the matter. I requested more info from McAuliffe’s office about how he followed up with Swan’s request, but no one is talking.
Schultz, meanwhile, helped McAuliffe with his prolific writing. While the newspaper’s policy is to edit letters to the editor and op-ed columns by guests, the edits usually are minor and are for brevity and comprehension.
But this is what Schultz emailed McAuliffe in response to a January 2011 request from McAuliffe that Schultz look over his piece about state budget cuts in the funding of Florida’s crime-fighting agencies: “Either use a fast-ball lead like ‘Florida can’t afford to take any more money from the people who fight crime’ and move on from there, or use an anecdotal lead about how your office’s attorneys took the streets, and explain that such actions will be harder and harder to do, with less and less money.”
McAuliffe’s article was published on Jan. 29, 2011. It started: “Florida can’t afford to take any more money from Florida’s crime fighters.”
Just this past December, meanwhile, another email exchange between Schultz and McAuliffe centered on an article by reporter Daphne Duret about McAuliffe’s decision to drop most charges in the case of two West Palm Beach cops caught on camera as they beat a suspect. McAuliffe claimed that new information and another look at the video led to the decision.
Gossip Extra reported that McAuliffe discussed the endorsement from a police union about the time he decided to let go of the police officers.
Two months later, Duret’s story showed there was nothing new on the tape that McAuliffe cited.
When McAuliffe emailed his long rebuttal of Duret’s story, Schultz first advised him to rewrite some parts to emphasize the role of the video in his decision.
Then Schultz emailed McAuliffe: “Will advise on which day it will run.”
McAuliffe: “I know what day I want to ask for, but I realize it’s too much to specifically ask.”
Schultz: “I’m thinking Saturday. The Monday-Saturday op-ed space isn’t there on Sunday, but Saturday is the second highest circulation day.”