Alexander Jerich’s get-out-of-jail-nearly-free essay was good enough to keep the Delray Defacer from doing time.
During a Tuesday hearing that lasted barely five minutes, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Scott Suskauer sentenced Jerich to 100 hours of community service for burning his truck across Delray Beach’s LGBTQ Pride streetscape and leaving skid marks. Jerich also will be on probation for two years and must undergo a mental health evaluation.
In addition, Jerich will not have a criminal record for the felony charge and misdemeanor charge to which he pleaded guilty. The publicity will follow him, but Jerich will not lose any of his civil rights. Regaining them under Florida’s Jim Crow-era system can take years and be very expensive.
Suskauer told Jerich, “What you did was a bad thing, but you’re not a bad guy.” Jerich was in a vehicle convoy celebrating Donald Trump’s birthday in June of last year. Suskauer advised Jerich to keep better company. “You were with some folks who weren’t helping you out.”
Prosecutors had asked for 30 days in jail. Palm Beach County Human Rights Council President Rand Hoch had asked for a jail term of one year. Suskauer delayed sentencing in April, asking Jerich to write a 24-page essay about the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that left 49 people dead. The shooter targeted Pulse because it drew an LGBTQ clientele and he had anti-LGBTQ grievances.
“After reading about the pulse nightclub shooting,” the essay reads, “it gave me a different perspective on the way people are hated on, I believe there is a stereotype for people around the world that shouldn’t exist.”
The essay goes on, “In the past year I have learned a lot more about the LGBT community, the hate, willingness to make a change and how devoted they are to have people accept them. Hopefully writing this essay will show my effort to make things right, my stupidness and dumb action have portrayed a picure on me that I am not.”
Jerich concludes: “I understand how far the LGBT community has come and I will never make any stupid decisions again.” The version I quoted from had been edited.
Jerich defaced the streetscape just two days after the city had dedicated it. Officials saw the intersection in Pineapple Grove as a symbolic break from when a former city manager opposed partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees.
Prosecutors had declined to charge Jerich with a hate crime, concluding that state law restricts such charges to offenses against people. Hoch disagreed with that decision and called Suskauer’s sentence “a slap on the wrist.”
In a statement, the state attorney’s office said, “Although we sought jail time in this case, we respect the court’s decision. This is Pride Month, and our office will always support the LGBTQ+ community and the enforcement of laws that protect against acts of prejudice.
“We hope the state Legislature will change the law to allow charging such acts as a hate crime in the future.”
One might assume that Suskauer never wanted to impose jail time but needed a cover story. Or one might assume that the essay and the bad publicity did more to rehabilitate Jerich than a few weeks behind bars would have done. “Don’t let your family down,” Suskauer told Jerich. “Don’t let me down.”
Delray fails to dismiss lawsuit
Delray Beach has lost its attempt to dismiss the lawsuit by the developer of a key West Atlantic Avenue project.
BH3 sued last year after the community redevelopment agency, which owns the roughly nine acres east of the Fairfield Inn, terminated the sale agreement. The CRA alleged that BH3 had asked for too many delays. The developer responded that, given the COVID-19 pandemic, the CRA was being unreasonable and alleged wrongful termination.
Last month, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Bradley Harper denied the CRA’s motion for dismissal. Harper found that “an express contract existed” between BH3 and the CRA. As I read the ruling, Harper concluded that the CRA acted in bad faith when it ended the contract.
Ideally, the CRA now would negotiate with BH3 to restart the project, which is to include a chain grocery store and affordable housing, among other things. But the CRA has filed a response to Harper’s motion and a counterclaim against the developer. The CRA still opposes BH3’s earlier payment of earnest money toward the project, known as Fabrick.
Gregory Freedman is co-CEO of BH3. “They seem not to understand” his industry, he said of the CRA, whose board members he described as not having developed “a birdhouse.”
His company, Freedman said, had created a project that was “what the community wanted, based on the outreach. We want to build the project.” If the CRA had not ended the contract, “We’d be in the ground.”
Instead, Freedman said, the project remains “in the ether.” Because of the lawsuit, the city can’t try to hire another developer. “They have refused mediation or arbitration,” Freedman said. So the lawsuit will move to depositions and discovery, which Freedman calls “a waste of resources.”
Of the lawsuit, Freedman said, “Nobody wins.” In 2018, BH3 won a $21.6 million judgment stemming from its construction of a condo complex in Miami-Dade County. “People said, ‘Aren’t you happy?’” Freedman recalled. “No, we weren’t.”
When the CRA chose BH3 in April 2019, board members noted the urgency of the project. Maybe it’s time to stop talking just to the lawyers.
Delray dubbed a top visitor destination
In better news for Delray Beach, Travel & Leisure magazine this month highlighted “The Underrated Florida City You Need to Visit.” Locals likely would dispute that “underrated” description, but good publicity is good publicity.
Delray Beach, the email article said, boasts “beautiful beaches, trendy hotels and vibrant street art,” including the city’s Art Trail. There also are “endless dining options.” The piece made no mention of sober houses. That’s also progress.
Boca City Council to discuss Lake Wyman project
On Monday, Boca Raton City Council members will get an update on the Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park project. One of the most ambitious in the city, it seeks to restore a natural area that the city neglected for too long. The process is complicated because the project requires so many state permits. I’ll have an update after the meeting.
Qualifying period for elections begins next week
Monday begins the qualifying period for county commission, school board and legislative races. Candidates must qualify by noon on June 17. I’ll preview the races after that.