Graham still seeking answers

Bob Graham has been out of office for a decade, but he is still thinking about South Florida and terrorism like someone who never left public life.

One of Florida’s longest-serving and most successful politicians, Graham believes that the government hasn’t disclosed all it knows about the movement of the 9/11 hijackers through this area. As many as 12 of the 19 hijackers may have lived here for months, most of them in Delray Beach and some in Boynton Beach. Graham does not believe that the hijackers could have moved as freely as they did without local help.

Graham’s experience bolsters his credibility for asking questions. After serving as governor for two terms, Graham spent three terms in the U.S. Senate, retiring after an unsuccessful attempt to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Graham not only served on the Intelligence Committee, he co-chaired the congressional panel that conducted its own investigation of the 9/11 attacks before the 9/11 Commission issued its findings. With new internal violence plaguing Iraq, it’s also worth noting that Graham didn’t buy the Bush administration’s case for responding to 9/11 by invading Iraq. Graham voted against the use-of-force resolution, after advising fellow Democrats to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was far less conclusive about weapons of mass destruction. One colleague who didn’t take his advice was Hillary Clinton.

“What did (the government) learn about” the hijackers’ movements, Graham wants to know. “Was there external assistance?” Most important, “If there was a network helping them, where is the evidence that is has been taken down?”

When Graham says of the Department of Justice and others that “They really jerked us around” during the congressional investigation, it’s easy to believe him. News organizations have sought the same information for years. The Palm Beach Post has made three unsuccessful attempts to learn what the government found out about the South Florida hijackers from the FBI’s many post-9/11 visits to the area. The stonewalling continues.

Graham recalls that his committee’s “breakthrough” came when the investigation focused on two hijackers who lived in San Diego. They had help from two Saudis, whom Graham linked to the Saudi government. Most of the hijackers were Saudis. Graham notes that family members of some 9/11 victims have sued the Saudi government, claiming that it providing financing and other support for the attacks. In December, the U.S. 2nd District Court of Appeals in New York City ruled that the lawsuit can proceed, rejecting Saudi Arabia’s claim of sovereign immunity. Lawyers for the government deny that Saudi Arabia had such a role.

Hijackers, Graham points out, took flying lessons at six sites in Florida. The FBI, though, took a particular interest only in flight schools on Florida’s west coast. I could find no evidence that the government is making any inquiries into South Florida and 9/11. Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw serves on the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force, and he has heard nothing.

Hijackers moved easily though other areas, such as Paterson, N.J., and Falls Church, Va. Graham says he wants to “set the historical record” about how these foreigners obtained drivers licenses, opened bank accounts, rented apartments, learned to fly without learning how to take off or land and didn’t arouse enough suspicion to make an official take a second look. What if, for example, Mohamed Atta—who piloted the plane that struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center and lived in Palm Beach County—had been questioned strongly in late December 2000 after he and another hijacker abandoned a light plane at Miami International Airport, causing a delay in commercial traffic?

There remains a lot of “What-if?” about 9/11. There also remains too much “How?” and too much “Who?”

Beckham in Boca?

The odds are very low that a Major League Soccer team will play in Boca Raton, but the city may be in the discussion if David Beckham—to steal a sports metaphor from another sport‑—keeps striking out in Miami.

Beckham is the former English star and current global celebrity—married to a Spice Girl, raking in $42 million a year in endorsements, according to Forbes—who wants to bring American professional soccer back to South Florida. Since soccer is most popular outside the United States, Beckham’s first choice is Miami, where so many residents were born not only outside the United States but in soccer-mad countries.

Companies may love Beckham, but so far Miami doesn’t. He may have faced tough opponents on the field, but he surely never faced anything like Miami politics.

The city may have Beckham’s preferred demographics, but it doesn’t have a stadium. The team couldn’t use Marlins Park, because the seasons overlap too much and the configuration is bad. Sun Life Stadium, where the Dolphins play, is too large. Success for Beckham would mean crowds of 25,000 to 30,000, not 70,000.

So Beckham says he would build a stadium, using only private money. He has proposed three sites, two along Biscayne Bay downtown. The city has rejected those, and this week Major League Soccer criticized a site near Marlins Park, saying the stadium needs to be downtown.

What now? Well, Boca Raton has a stadium. Specifically, Florida Atlantic University has a stadium, seating 30,000. The size is right. The state is building an I-95 interchange with direct access to FAU. The university and the team would have to coordinate, since the MLS season runs deep into October, when FAU is playing football. And there are all those young people whom the league wants to make into soccer fans.

Of course, Boca isn’t Miami. And Beckham hasn’t approached FAU. A spokesman says FAU hasn’t even heard back from the professional lacrosse team that wants to use the stadium. A women’s pro soccer team that played at FAU didn’t last. But whatever happens, remember that the stadium isn’t just FAU’s; it’s Boca’s. There could be any number of ways for both to cash in.

Divorce, Delray-style

This month, the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach reversed an order by a trial judge in a divorce case. That was not unusual. The unusual part was the trial court’s action that led to the reversal.

Jeffrey and Colleen Kilnapp were arguing over $3.5 million. Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Tim McCarthy had set a three-hour hearing, starting at 2 p.m. He works in the Delray Beach courthouse; the case went there because the Kilnapps lived in Delray. No jury trials are held in Delray—mostly because the location makes it hard to empanel countywide juries—but family court issues don’t require juries. Judges make all decisions.

Just 30 minutes into the hearing, as Jeffrey Kilnapp was answering questions, McCarthy said, “I’m going to happy hour. I’m tired of this crap.” Kilnapp protested, to which McCarthy said, “I’m done. Get out of here.” A week later, McCarthy ordered Jeffrey Kilnapp to repay nearly all of that $3.5 million, saying Kilnapp had wrongly removed the money from the couple’s accounts. Jeffrey Kilnapp appealed, and won a stay of that order. The appeals court said McCarthy did not give the husband time to make his argument. “The trial court,” the judges wrote, “abused its discretion.”

The case offers a window onto the court system in Palm Beach County. Many judges dislike even serving in family court, since people often are at their worst—worse even than defendants in criminal court. So the chief judge, who decides which judges will serve where, needs to take care in making those assignments, especially since judges in family court have so much of what the appeals court called “discretion,” which really means “power.”

Since the south-county courthouse handles cases from Boca Raton and Delray Beach, you must assume that a disproportionate number of divorce proceedings will be contentious. There’s lots of money in Boca and Delray, and divorces go somewhat smoothly only when there’s nothing to argue about. The Kilnapps’ had been one of those contentious cases.

Polls of lawyers have shown consistently that McCarthy is a hothead, subject to what lawyers call “black robe syndrome.” Such judges tend to be impatient and imperious. McCarthy's personality nearly cost him his job in the 2012 election. He won only because he had a weak opponent

It’s hard to hide problematic judges. Of all the places where McCarthy could be hidden, though, Delray Beach might have been the worst. You can sympathize with judges who must listen to people with lots of money argue over it, but that fact that it happens surprises no one.

Future chief judges can help by taking note of this incident. The McCarthy problem will solve itself in September 2015, where the judge turns 70 and, under state law, must retire.  

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

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About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.