Michael J. Satz has been prosecuting criminal cases for more than 40 years – and still enjoys walking into the courtroom. “I always want to do the right thing for our community,” said Satz, who has served as Broward State Attorney since 1976. “I have always loved trying cases, and as state attorney, I can focus on the pure aspect of law without the client or business considerations that come with private practice.”
Now 74, Satz continues to handle the prosecution of capital homicide cases and other serious crimes while overseeing a staff of 511, including 215 assistant state attorneys. “Our priorities are ensuring public safety, combating violent crime and addressing public corruption,” Satz said. “At the same time, we want to help young people facing less serious charges stay out of jail through effective community programs.”
Satz has received a lengthy string of honors throughout his professional career. He was awarded the Lynn Futch Professionalism in Practice Award by the Broward County Bar Association in 2001. In 2006, he was presented with Leadership Broward’s annual ‘Profile in Leadership Award.’ The following year, Satz was honored by the Anti-Defamation League with its annual ‘Jurisprudence Award.’ In 2015, he received a Lifetime Achievement award from the Broward County Crime Commission, and he was honored as Humanitarian of the Year by the Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention organization.
Long active in the community, Satz organized Broward’s first countywide Foster Care Summit in 1999. He is the co- founder and co-chair of the American Cancer Society’s annual “Up the River” cruise, which is part of the society’s annual “Jail and Bail” fundraising event. He’s also a dedicated sports fan who enjoys snow skiing, working out, and watching college and professional football and basketball. “Sports is one of those great activities that can bring people together,” he said.
Dedicated to Trial Work
Satz grew up in Pennsylvania and earned his bachelor’s degree from Temple University. “I knew I wanted to be a lawyer early in life and had visited Miami on spring break,” he said. “I was accepted by the University of Miami School of Law, which had a great reputation. My sister and her husband, Loretta and Larry Brody, were living in Miami and they graciously let me stay with them while I went to school.”
After earning his law degree, Satz wanted a position that would allow him to try cases in the State Attorney’s Office. He was offered a position in Fort Lauderdale as an assistant state attorney, and he’s worked at the Broward courthouse ever since then.
Satz quickly developed a reputation as a tough courtroom litigator and, four years later, was promoted to head of the office’s homicide division. Through the years, he handled numerous high-profile cases, including 10 shooting deaths of Broward police officers.
One of many cases that left a deep impression on Satz is a double murder in Deerfield Beach that he prosecuted in 1987. Two women employees of a Cloth World store were working with a store maintenance worker, Robert Henry. After the store closed, Henry hit one woman with a hammer and tied her to a bathroom stall, hit the second woman on the head and then set them both on fire before stealing the store’s cash receipts. A passing bicyclist saw smoke from the windows, but by the time firefighters were able to enter, one woman had burned to death. The second woman died several days later after naming Henry as the killer, Satz remembered. Henry was executed in 2014 for the murders.
Throughout his tenure, Satz has created specialized units within the State Attorney’s Office to enhance the focus and expertise of prosecutors. Those include a Career Criminal Unit, Sexual Battery/Child Abuse/Human Trafficking Unit, Domestic Violence Unit, Elderly Abuse Unit, Organized Crime/Gang Unit, Public Corruption Unit, Economic Crime Unit, Drug Trafficking Unit and an Identity Theft Unit.
Satz has made political corruption a high priority for his office. “Our team has successfully prosecuted public corruption cases against three county commissioners, six elected municipal officials, a school board member, and six key appointed officials,” he said. “Since 2009, we have filed charges against more than 100 law enforcement officers for a variety of on-duty and off-duty crimes,” including filing false arrest reports.
Addressing Current Issues
Although Broward’s crime rate in 2015 was the lowest in 40 years, Satz says human trafficking and crimes against children and the elderly remain serious problems. “We have seen an increase in drug-related deaths from opioides like heroin and Fentanyl,” he added. “That trend is consistent with what’s happening throughout the country.”
Human trafficking is a serious problem throughout all of South Florida, Satz said. For example, a young woman from Eastern Europe might be promised a job in the U.S. and then forced to work as a prostitute. Sexual predators can trap children and young adults and keep them in servitude as sex workers or forced laborers. “Far too many young people are trapped in this net, so we must all be vigilant and report signs of human trafficking,” Satz said.
Satz was instrumental in the passage of laws that provide criminal penalties for drivers who fail to remain at the scene of an accident that results in serious injury or death, and laws that increase penalties for the abuse, neglect and exploitation of elderly persons and disabled adults.
Satz sponsored the first Broward County Elder Abuse and Exploitation Seminar in 1995, and has continued to address crimes against seniors. “All too often, con artists solicit the elderly on the phone or knock on the door pretending to be a handyman,” he said.
Developing Community Programs
Along with focusing on public safety, Satz has played a key role in developing programs to help victims of crime and to prevent youthful offenders from becoming career criminals. Satz established a Victim Advocate Unit, and also participated in the creation of Broward’s nationally recognized Drug Court and Mental Health Court. He was one of the founders of Broward’s Sexual Assault Treatment Center.
The state attorney has also supported diversion programs for some non-violent offenders who receive counseling and support services rather than being jailed. He also supports the Broward County Public Schools’ “Promise” program that allows students who commit non-violent misdemeanors to avoid arrest and stay in school. “We are also pushing for the use of civil citations for non-violent misdemeanors outside of school,” Satz added. “That means the young adult doesn’t have an arrest record, which can have a huge impact on the rest of his or her life.”
Last year, the State Attorney’s Office held its first in a series of sealing and expungement workshops at the Urban League of Fort Lauderdale. These community outreach programs help citizens get their arrest records sealed or expunged. Subsequent workshops were held in Pompano Beach, Lauderdale Lakes, Deerfield Beach and Hallandale Beach. More than 1,500 people took part in the five workshops.
Looking back on his career, Satz hopes that the different segments of Broward’s population will find greater common ground than in the past.
“Through the years, there has been a level of mistrust between our community and law enforcement,” Satz said. “We want to improve those relations, do away with that ‘us and them’ mentality, and work toward a higher quality of life for everyone.”
South Florida Legal Guide 2017 Edition