By Araceli Cruz
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
"I think the culture of corruption is spreading itself throughout the entire city of Washington, D.C.," Kitts said, calling for campaign-finance reform. He even got to take a shot at his opponent "for accepting illegal campaign contributions." In fact, Kitts was subsequently fined by a watchdog panel for failing to disclose free trips to Hawaii and accepting golf gifts from the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association that exceeded the state's gift limits. The Associated Press also reported another golf gift that Kitts had collected two weeks before he appeared on Scarborough's show. He was subsequently trounced in the congressional race.
Scarborough has a history of nondisclosure on the air. A member of a prominent Pensacola environmental-law firm, Scarborough had his law partner on his show four times for a "Rat of the Week" segment without disclosing the connection (he did reveal it another seven times). A few months after The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz revealed the conflict, Scarborough resigned from the firm. The case that drew Kurtz's attention—a suit against a wood-preservation product—was eventually thrown out of court. MSNBC said Scarborough hadn't told them that he was still on the firm's payroll.
While still with the firm, he brought a reporter from a Pensacola newsweekly that he owned to two depositions in a $500 million water-pollution lawsuit against Conoco. The reporter, whose stories slammed Conoco, reportedly signed in at the depositions, which were not public, as appearing "for the plaintiffs." The depositions were Scarborough's only real legal work in more than two years with the firm, according to Fred Levin and Mark Proctor, two of its senior partners. "He never really practiced law," said Levin. "He was supposed to be a rainmaker, but it never rained."
One Scarborough legend, more than any other, casts a long shadow over the public personality that hundreds of thousands of Americans now watch with their morning cup of coffee in hand.
The first two abortion doctors murdered by pro-life assassins were shot to death on their way to Pensacola clinics, both during Joe Scarborough's first congressional campaign. In 1993, Dr. David Gunn was killed, and Michael Griffin was accused of his murder. Scarborough represented Griffin pro bono, attributing it, to this day, to a relationship between his then father-in-law and Griffin's father—a relationship that neither would confirm despite numerous calls by the Voice. It is, by any measure, a strange "favor for a friend," which is what Scarborough calls it, though he says he hasn't seen Michael's father, Thomas Griffin, since. Thomas Griffin contributed twice to Scarborough's campaign, $200 each time.
But the largest donor to Scarborough's cash-starved campaign was the National Right to Life Committee, which donated $15,210. The second-largest donor—at $8,113—was the Eagle Forum, founded by Phyllis Schlafly, the chair of the Republican National Coalition for Life. Scarborough became quite friendly with the Florida head of the forum, Carole Griffin (no relation to Michael), during the 1994 campaign. Scarborough's GOP opponent, Lois Benson, charged then that Scarborough "sought headlines by trying to defend Michael Griffin." (Benson, who watches Scarborough from afar these days, likened his attacks on her then to his recent blasts at Hillary.) A University of West Florida political scientist, James Witt, told the Associated Press that abortion was "a factor" in Scarborough's win, though Scarborough insists that it wasn't.
Scarborough minimizes his ties to the case, saying that he was only trying to "get [Griffin] a lawyer." There was "no way in hell I could sit in at a civil trial, let alone a capital trial," he claims now, referring to the prospect of prosecutors seeking the death penalty against Griffin. But Griffin already had a court-appointed attorney, and when that attorney made a motion to substitute Scarborough at a June hearing, Scarborough said: "I understand that I come in this case if another attorney is not brought on board, that I will be responsible for representing Mr. Griffin at trial."
In fact, Scarborough began representing Griffin shortly after the March murder and didn't find a trial lawyer, Bob Kerrigan, until late June, when he wrote a letter withdrawing from the case. Kerrigan didn't return the Voice's calls, but Griffin, who is doing a life sentence, sent two handwritten letters in response to Voice inquiries, maintaining that Scarborough tried to stay on the trial team. He says that Kerrigan and Scarborough brought motion papers to him, which he signed, that would have kept Scarborough on as co-counsel. He maintains that "the judge rejected it" at an informal meeting outside the courtroom. According to Griffin, Joe told him "several times" that he would represent him at trial and that he "had three friends still in law school who would help him," adding: "I have an exact memory on this point."
Pat Doherty, an attorney Scarborough interviewed for the job, says that Scarborough "toyed with the idea" of doing the case himself and never offered it to him, though he had "done a lot of death-penalty work." Doherty said twice that his memory was that "some people in Griffin's church"—a church that was deeply involved in the abortion-protest movement—"knew Joe, and that's how they got in touch."