Contact 5 has confirmed Brian Fernandes, (now former) Chief Assistant State Attorney for Palm Beach County, has been removed from that position, effectively immediately.
Contact 5 was the first to break the news that Fernandes was under investigation, for what sources call his "extreme" management style, and in some cases, verbal abuse. On February 26th, Contact 5 reported, according to sources, that nearly two dozen people in the State Attorney's Office complained about Chief Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes. Sources further tell Contact 5, Fernandes seemed to take pleasure in demeaning and berating people.
The investigation into "allegation of misconduct" was concluded Thursday. In a memo sent to Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, Chief Assistant State Attorney Adrienne Ellis, who was in charge of the Fernandes investigation, recommended "all personnel management responsibilities be removed from Mr. Fernandes with a reduction of pay ..." Ellis said, alongside outside counsel, she interviewed more than 25 people over a period of 4 weeks. The memo says the investigation started February 7th. The investigation into Fernandes was publicly announced on February 26th, following media inquiries.
In her investigation, Ellis said she found "clear evidence of a style of personnel management from Brian Fernandes that is heavy-handed and intimidating," but that there "is no evidence to support a charge of illegal or unethical conduct." She added that "Mr. Fernandes' overly aggressive style of management is inconsistent with your administration ..."
State Attorney Dave Aronberg released this statement:
“Upon receiving the first complaint about the management style of Chief Assistant Brian Fernandes on February 7th, we immediately launched an investigation, headed by Chief Assistant Adrienne Ellis, along with outside employment counsel, Jim Williams of Williams, Leininger & Cosby, P.A.
The investigation is now complete, and I have implemented the recommendations of Ms. Ellis and outside counsel.
Brian Fernandes has been demoted with a cut in pay. He has been permanently removed from his position as Chief Assistant and will no longer supervise any employees of the State Attorney’s Office.
Craig Williams, who leads the Felony trial division, has been promoted as the newest Chief Assistant, joining Chief Assistants Adrienne Ellis and Alan Johnson.
Our office remains committed to the highest standards of justice and ethics to protect public safety.”
On Thursday, the State Attorney's Office also released a memo from Williams, Leininger, and Cosby, the firm brought in to consult on the investigation. In it, they say they were there to help investigate "reports of a management style inconsistent with the State Attorney's policies," which "gave rise to poor morale and a possible exodus of staff." Lawyers there recommended removal of personnel management and a pay reduction, but said "it is our belief that termination would be inappropriate at this time."
A spokesperson for the State Attorney's Office says Fernandes' new job title is Assistant State Attorney.The State Attorney's Office also said Fernandes would still be in charge of cases assigned to him, including Sheila Keen Warren and Nouman Raja. Adrienne Ellis, the attorney who investigated Fernandes is co-counsel on the Raja case. At the time the investigation was announced, a spokesperson said there was no conflict of interest for an administrative review.
Part of what sparked the Fernandes investigation, sources say, was a letter sent by prosecutor Greg Kridos, written on behalf of the attorneys he oversees. He told Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, "Brian (Fernandes') style of management and the way he has treated my attorneys has detrimentally affected them."
In the letter, the attorney writes that "Brian manages by fear and intimidation," and says people have left the prosecutor's office because of Fernandes. The letter also mentioned one attorney became sick because of Fernandes and his management style.