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Courts / Law

How Statewide Grand Juries Play A Role In Shaping Florida's Future Policies

After Florida's 20th statewide grand jury indicted Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie, and the district's general counsel last month, here's a breakdown of the process for statewide grand juries, why the exist and what happens after they are done meeting.

The Broward County Public School district is negotiating separation agreements for Superintendent Robert Runcie and the district's top attorney Barbara Myrick — after they each announced last week that they will step down.

Both of them were indicted by a statewide grand jury investigating the use of school safety funds. Runcie pleaded not guilty to a perjury charge. Myrick has not entered a plea for her charge of illegally revealing information about the grand jury.

Grand juries are known for operating under a veil of mystery. And that's on purpose. Their documents largely stay sealed.

Former Florida Statewide Prosecutor William Shepherd was appointed under Attorney General Bill McCollum. He served from 2007 to 2011. And he says, those documents stay sealed mainly for two reasons.

"One is to protect the safety and identity of the witnesses who are coming forward," he said. "And the other, frankly, is to protect the defendant."

Not everyone who is investigated by a statewide grand jury is indicted.

Shepherd oversaw statewide grand jurors who looked at gang related crimes. Now, he is a partner at the West Palm Beach office of the law firm Holland & Knight.

Shepherd calls statewide grand juries a sort of "citizens legislature."

"The statewide grand jury is convened by the governor at the suggestion and request of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the statewide prosecutor. It's really an arm of the Florida Supreme Court," Shepherd said.

It has two functions.

"One is to review evidence and take sworn testimony about ongoing criminal investigations and evaluate them for an indictment," he said. "But the other, and perhaps more important role is to examine systemic issues throughout our state."

Grand juries also make recommendations.

Statewide grand jurors can write a report — called a presentment, or white paper. That can be brought to the Capitol in Tallahassee and become a basis for legislative, or regulatory, change.

This statewide grand jury that indicted Runcie and Myrick is Florida's 20th statewide grand jury. It finished meeting April 17, according to the Attorney General's Office.

It was tasked to look at, among other school safety related topics, the use of safety funds in school districts. It was empaneled after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Runcie and Myrick are both expected to appear in court on their charges next week, via Zoom.
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