Michelle Lucas, a community activist and grandmother of four, was devastated when she was charged with two felonies for allegedly passing a counterfeit bill. Our investigation uncovered evidence that forced prosecutors to admit the police had made a mistake and had an unexpected impact on her case.
The Palm Beach judge who has thus far refused to release grand jury records in the Jeffrey Epstein case has both professional and family ties to three of the politicians who have a stake in keeping those records secret, the Miami Herald has learned.
Krista Marx, the Palm Beach chief judge who also heads a panel that polices judicial conduct, has potential conflicts of interest involving three prominent players embroiled in the Epstein sex-trafficking saga: State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who has been sued by the Palm Beach Post to release the grand jury records; Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, whose department’s favored treatment of Epstein while he was in the Palm Beach County jail is part of an ongoing state criminal investigation; and ex-State Attorney Barry Krischer, part of the same investigation in connection with his decision not to prosecute Epstein on child-sex charges.
Special prosecutors appointed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went to court in January to unseal records of Krischer’s secret 2006 state grand jury presentment in the case.
Prosecutors wanted to examine whether Krischer’s office told the panel the full scope of Epstein’s crimes, or whether state prosecutors kept key evidence from the grand jury. The grand jury returned a minor charge of solicitation of prostitution against Epstein, who later managed to negotiate a lenient plea deal, resulting in him serving 13 months in the Palm Beach County Jail, much of at his lavish office in West Palm Beach, thanks to generous work-release provisions.
Local news has never been more important
Last year, following a series of stories in the Miami Herald detailing the machinations behind Epstein’s plea deal, DeSantis ordered a state criminal probe focusing on Krischer’s decision not to prosecute and on Bradshaw’s role in helping Epstein maintain an opulent lifestyle — including having sex with women — while subject to sheriff’s custody on sex charges.
But Marx in January rejected the criminal prosecutors’ effort to unseal the grand jury records, calling it a “fishing expedition.’’ Then on Wednesday, she rebuffed a similar request by attorneys representing the Post, who sued Aronberg, and the county clerk, Sharon Bock, for release of the records.
Victims of Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse voice their outrage in court
Marx was dismissive of the Post’s lawsuit against Aronberg, who has denied he has custody of the grand jury records; and Bock, who has custody of the records but won’t release them without a court order.
Marx, however, did not disclose from the bench that Krischer was her former boss, that her daughter works for Aronberg as an assistant state attorney and that her son works for Bradshaw as a sheriff’s deputy.
Marx’s husband, Palm Beach County Judge Joe Marx, has a disclosure on his county web page stating he would recuse himself from any cases that involve his two stepchildren. Krista Marx’s county web page does not have such a disclosure.
Marx, a six-term elected judge, chairs Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, the state agency that polices judges and handles complaints filed against judges.
The Miami Herald reached Krista Marx on her cell phone late Friday. She instructed a reporter to send her questions via text.
Shortly after, she sent the following:
“A judge is prohibited from commenting on open cases. It is a clear rule of the judicial canons. See cnn 3 (B) 9.”
Krischer did not respond to a request for comment.
Neither the attorney for the Palm Beach Post nor the criminal prosecutor handling the state probe were aware of Marx’s work for Krischer.
The attorneys would not comment on the record, but confirmed they didn’t know that Marx, a six-term elected judge, had worked as an assistant state attorney for Krischer from 1992 to 1998.
In 2012, Marx weighed running for state attorney herself, then decided against it after supporters of Aronberg, the only other candidate, indicated they would file an ethics complaint against her and also run a candidate against her husband, who was up for re-election, the Post reported at the time. Judges in Palm Beach County rarely face opposition and such reelection contests, when they do occur, are costly and time consuming.
Despite his denials, Aronberg, who won that year and has been state attorney ever since, had a “direct, personal role’’ in the events that led Marx to drop her bid, the Post found in 2012.
The Miami Herald could not reach Aronberg for comment.
The Post investigation showed that Aronberg’s campaign manager prepared a five-point public records request in an effort to obtain information detrimental to Marx. Aronberg emailed the request himself to an associate, the paper found. The issue involved soliciting political support from practicing attorneys, the Post said.
The records request was never filed, but Aronberg’s campaign manager acknowledged that he drafted the request to obtain information on Marx because she was planning to challenge Aronberg. Both the campaign manager and Aronberg, however, denied knowing anything about what the Post described as a “threat” to damage Krista Marx’s campaign.
At the time, Marx acknowledged that she was warned by political operatives that several lawyers were preparing to file an ethics complaint against her for soliciting political support from them.
“A complaint would be filed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission and could entail an investigation and hearing that Marx supporters say would have stained her reputation, even if she were exonerated,’’ the Post wrote.
Aronberg, a former member of the Florida Senate and a regular commentator on MSNBC, has said he doesn’t have custody of the 2006 grand jury records. He is a close ally of Krischer, who served on Aronberg’s transitional committee and has done some unspecified “volunteer work’’ in Aronberg’s office, the Post has reported.
A spokesman for Aronberg said that Krischer is not an assistant state attorney in his office. But when asked to clarify what role, if any, Krischer has had during Aronberg’s tenure as state attorney, the spokesman did not respond.
Krischer is also a paid “volunteer’’ in Bradshaw’s sheriff’s department. Public records show he has earned over $112,000 in that capacity.
The original handling of the Epstein case a decade ago stands as a flagrant example of the corrosive effects of power, wealth and privilege on the criminal justice system. Epstein avoided prison despite dozens of young women and girls telling authorities he sexually abused them.
During Epstein’s short stint in the county jail, the multimillionaire was given expansive work-release privileges that are rarely, if ever, afforded to sex offenders in Florida. Bradshaw, one of the most powerful figures in Palm Beach politics, has denied he had a direct role in Epstein’s treatment.
The fight over the grand jury records — with its backdrop of ties between keys players — illustrates the peculiar nature of Florida politics, where behind-the-scenes power brokers and consultants, fueled by money, can decide who runs for office, which incumbents face challengers and which do not, and who is rewarded with political appointments and jobs.
“The system is one that the good ‘ol boys have built for 20 or 30 years. And now, it’s in jeopardy over this case,’’ said Jose Lambiet, a former writer for the Post who covered gossip and politics, including the Epstein scandal, for many years. He also wrote a column for the Miami Herald and is now a private investigator.
“Marx needs to recuse herself and anything that is done in the Epstein case should be in a different county.’’