Recently, the Tamarac Post spoke with Joshua Rydell about his campaign to be Broward’s next State Attorney. While Joshua promptly completed our candidate questionnaire, he also took time out of what is surely a very busy schedule to discuss his campaign with us on the phone.
In 2015, Joshua won a seat on the Coconut Creek City Commission, where he has worked to secure state funding for key projects, supported smart development, and implemented community policing. He has held positions on the Broward County Substance Abuse Advisory Board, the Broward County Bar Association’s County-Municipal Affairs Committee, the Florida Bar Grievance Committee, the Broward County League of Cities, and other organizations. Joshua lives in Coconut Creek with his wife Jamie and their seven- and three-year-old daughters.
During our phone conversation, Joshua’s passion for public service was clear. He sees himself as a “lawyer, advocate, teacher, and mentor” who believes that our current system is inherently flawed. In his view, “the first time a kid sees a prosecutor should be in a classroom, not a courtroom.”
Joshua thinks that currently, we put band-aids on the real issues instead of trying to solve the underlying problems, and that we need to change how we look at criminal justice. “Punishing bad crime is easy,” he noted, adding that “Fixing [the underlying issues that lead to] crime is not.”
Here are Joshua’s responses to the Tamarac Post’s candidate questionnaire:
Why are you running for office?
I’m running for State Attorney to remake Broward County’s criminal justice system in a way that is fair and equitable for everyone in our community. Race, financial status, sexual orientation, gender, mental health status, or any consideration other than the facts pertinent to every individual’s unique case should not be a factor in how the criminal justice system impacts them. As a former assistant public defender and now a criminal defense attorney, I know firsthand how broken our system is. As Broward County’s next lawyer-in-chief, I will keep the community safe, ensure that the office is just and fair to everyone, reform the system by providing alternatives to mass incarceration, reduce recidivism, stop the school-to-prison pipeline, and increase trust with the community. I’ll end cash bail for nonviolent offenders, prioritize substance abuse treatment over the criminalization of addiction, stop racially discriminatory sentencing practices, end technical probation violations, support community-based diversion along with re-entry programs, and increase transparency. For me, these are not just professional issues of law and order. They are ethical questions of social justice. Fixing the system is an urgent matter and a grave responsibility to which I am fully committed.
What in your background has best prepared you to be the State Attorney?
I have spent the last 15 years as a criminal defense attorney in Broward County. This has allowed me a front row seat to the multitude of problems we face here in the criminal justice system. By working on the other side of the courtroom, I have seen exactly where the cracks in the system lie and what changes must be made. I have seen the resources of the State Attorney’s office wasted on low level, non-violent crimes, and I have seen victims who have not even been in contact with the prosecutor on their case. We need to stop being so conviction-focused, and we need to start addressing crime before it happens through education, diversion, rehabilitation, and community building. Also, as a city commissioner, I know the value of working closely with the community and community organizations to develop good policy and find solutions to the problems we face. Outside of working as an attorney, I have served on the Coconut Creek City Commission since 2015, and I’m currently my city’s Vice Mayor. This means that I have experience managing large budgets, creating policy, and overseeing career-level staff (about 430 people work for the City of Coconut Creek). My background gives me an informed perspective on the challenges we face, and the sweeping policy changes we must make to address them. I intend to work together with city and county leaders, communities of faith, non-profits, social welfare organizations, and others in order to improve our criminal justice system.
Please list, in order of importance, the three most important issues you plan to address and how you plan to address them.
- A “culture of conviction” which prioritizes locking people up and conviction rates over ensuring true justice is carried out: We need to change who we incarcerate and why. We use valuable time and resources to go after and lock up non-violent offenders and people whose only crime might be minor drug possession, incarcerating people who have committed only minor offenses instead of focusing on the crime that actually threatens our safety. We also need to treat addiction like the medical issue it is. Our community isn’t going to get any safer by locking up people who are clearly just in need of medical help. By diverting these individuals away from jail and into treatment, we can finally address the cause of their drug addiction.
- Racial disparities reflecting longer, harsher sentences for people of color: State Attorneys have significant latitude in suggesting sentencing to judges in criminal cases. Far too often, this leads to a system where people of color end up with lengthier sentences. We need to end this by re-evaluating why this office suggests certain sentence lengths. I will launch an initiative to start examining the costs and benefits for incarceration terms and establish more equitable sentences for offenders.
- A lack of data transparency, training, and education: If we’re going to create a culture of accountability and openness, then it needs to start with leading by example. That’s why a central tenet of our office will be responsible usage of the limited resources that we’re given and transparency with how we use taxpayer money. This means that we can eliminate the unnecessary spending that doesn’t go towards making citizens any safer and focus our resources and attention on the initiatives that make Broward safer. Additionally, I will make sure that the newly created Conviction Integrity Unit, which re-examines questionable convictions and seeks the truth in those cases, has the proper resources and attention to fulfill its duty.
How would you improve the State Attorney’s relationship with the Public Defender’s office?
Like all successful relationships, communication is key. Over the past decade, we have seen all communication between the two offices break down. A crucial and immediate focus needs to be repairing the dialogue and working relationship with the Public Defender’s Office. This communication alone will make Broward better. It is also vital that we take ego out of the equation. We all need to come together to create real solutions, regardless of whose name is attached to them.
What do you believe is the most important step the State Attorney’s office can take to improve the relationship between law enforcement and local communities?
We must focus more on community policing, to start. We need officers to get out of their cars and be involved in the community. By using the relationships I have developed over the years, both as an attorney and as a city commissioner, I can help establish the partnerships needed between law enforcement and communities to start building trust and, in time, generate the kinds of deep bonds that can actually prevent crime and keep all of our communities safe.
On a 1 to 5 scale, where 1 is “not important at all” and 5 is “extremely important,” to what degree do you believe public safety is an important function of government?
What are your thoughts on how the courts should adapt to a post-COVID landscape?
First and foremost, the biggest lesson of COVID is how antiquated the systems are in the State Attorney’s office. We should not be relying on carbon copies of our files – we should be able to access everything we need for a case on the computer. We need to digitize the entire office, which will not only streamline our case work, but will allow us to be more accessible to victims to keep them up to date on the status of their cases.
What have you done in the past to demonstrate your commitment to Broward County?
I had never planned to be in public office when I started my career. However, after attending a city commission meeting to address an issue in my city, I realized I had to run for office to make a difference for my children. As an elected official, I have used my platform to forge relationships throughout Broward County to try and make real, substantial changes. I have been on the forefront of environmental causes, including drilling in the Everglades and the expansion of the county’s landfill. I have participated in the preemption lawsuit and fought for cities to have the right to keep our public spaces free from guns and the subsequent violence. I have sat on the Broward County Substance Abuse Advisory Board and fought for additional funds for the facilities that treat those who have addiction issues. I have argued on behalf of our senior community to protect them from scammers and identity thieves. In my public service, I’ve created a vast network, and I intend to use these relationships to make this county better, stronger, and safer.
Is there anything else you would like voters to know about you?
I am a father first, and, at the end of every day, I come home and tell two little girls bedtime stories. Sometimes they are not just stories but are about a better world we can all live in if we start to make changes today.
To learn more about Joshua, visit https://joshuarydell.com/.
Note: The Tamarac Post will be providing profiles of selected candidates throughout election season.
While mail-in and early voting are well underway, you can vote in-person this Tuesday August 18; be sure to make your voice heard.
Although the registration deadline for the August elections has passed, be sure you’re registered to vote for the November elections by visiting the Broward Supervisor of Elections at: https://www.browardsoe.org/.