Dozier Court Ruling Gave Pam Bondi Exactly What She Wanted
By: ERIC GIUNTA
Despite how Friday's ruling is being characterized by many mainstream media outlets, Judge William Wright did not "block" Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi from
exhuming bodies from the state's infamous Dozier School for Boys; on the contrary, he gave her exactly what she wanted.
Yes, Wright's ruling is titled “Order Denying [Bondi's] Petition”; and yes, Bondi herself did refer to the order as an “adverse ruling.” But the investigation by Florida's
chief legal officer into the state's reform-school-from-hell is nowhere near over. Not by a long shot.
It is important to keep in mind the context of Friday's decision. A team of anthropologists, archaeologists, and biologists from the University of South Florida (USF) has
been excavating the school grounds since last year, under a permit granted them by the state archaeologist.
Judge William Wright and Attorney
General Pam Bondi
Expecting to find perhaps more than 50 human remains, Bondi's office petitioned Florida's 14th Judicial Circuit Court,
whose jurisdiction includes Jackson County (where the school is located), to grant permission to the county medical
examiner, Dr. Michael Hunter, to exhume any bodies that might be discovered.
In her petition, and a subsequent follow-up memo – both authored by special assistant AG Nicholas Cox – Bondi said she
believed Hunter already had authority under Florida law to direct any exhumation and autopsy of any bodies discovered
in the course of the dig. But given the sanctity that Florida common law typically affords the bodies of the deceased, she
wanted to be extra sure that the Panhandle medical examiner would have immunity from any criminal or civil action
brought by concerned citizens or family members.
Her concerns were well-founded. Although Florida law explicitly says that one cannot be charged with desecrating a
grave if they are acting under a state permit, one Dale Cox – a self-styled “local historian” – tried to convince the local
state prosecutor to bring criminal charges (for desecration of a gravesite) against USF's chief archaeologist. The
prosecutor found no basis for those charges, but Bondi thought a court order would give Hunter an extra layer of legal
Bondi's initial petition asked for nothing more than a court order; but her follow-up memo, published earlier this month in
response to several legal questions posed by the court, asked the court for an “alternative,” if that petition could not be
granted: "an order finding that said authority does fall to Dr. Hunter ... without need for an order from this Court."
[Scroll down to read the follow-up memorandum, attached to this story.]
And that's precisely what Judge Wright gave Bondi.
“Any further excavation by USF will be with state permission on state property,” he wrote on Friday. “The medical
examiner does not need a court order to carry out his statutory duty if human remains are found.”
And later in the same document: "There is no indication that the medical examiner will face criminal charges for assuming
jurisdiction of any human remains which might be discovered as a result of USF's archaeological dig.”
And yet again, at the order's conclusion: “The medical examiner has statutory authority to conduct investigations, and
the state attorney has the authority to pursue autopsies when necessary.”
You can bet Bondi's legal team is going to milk whatever they can from these words.
Wright denied the attorney general's petition on a technicality: He said she failed to say what kind of evidence she
expected to find that would lead to an identification of any human remains she might discover, or of their cause of death.
But cautionary or not, the judge effectively gave Bondi the “alternative” she asked for: a finding that she didn't need a
court order after all.