Melba Pearson and Katherine Rundle

Criminal justice reformist Melba Pearson will challenge incumbent Katherine Fernandez Rundle for Miami-Dade State Attorney.

The former deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and former Miami-Dade County prosecutor of 16 years filed to run for Miami-Dade State Attorney Thursday, Jan. 9, according the Florida Division of Elections.

Her campaign issued a press release later in the day confirming her candidacy with the following statement from Pearson:

“I am running for State Attorney because Miami-Dade County deserves a fresh approach to criminal justice in our community. The policies that have been in place for the last generation have resulted in enormous unintended racial disparities in the administration of justice, overpopulation of our prisons and jails, and children regularly being sent to adult court for non-violent offenses. In the 1980s, the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office introduced the country’s first drug courts, which spread nationwide, effectively ending the practice of sending non-violent drug users to prison. We must begin to prioritize rehabilitation over punishment so the office can once again be a pioneer for reform.”

The official announcement and press conference will be next Wednesday, Jan. 15.

Pearson has lived in Miami for the past 20 years, after receiving her undergraduate degree at New York University and completing her graduate studies at Hofstra University School of Law.

While she was assistant state attorney for Miami-Dade County, she prosecuted a variety of crimes and was selected to join the Domestic Crimes Unit. There, she focused on serious domestic violence crimes as well as homicides for close to four years.

Her candidacy comes just days after Florida Politics, an online political news website, published her op-ed condemning Rundle’s announcement of a new policy on monetary bail that she tweeted last Friday night.

In it, she wrote:

“Since announcing that she was seeking an eighth term in office, Rundle has been aggressively raising money from bail bonds companies and bail bond operators, receiving 12 donations totaling $3,200 in the last two months.

“My biggest concern with her sudden announcement is that she may be maintaining, or even worsening, the racial disparities with this change in policy, because of her vague announcement Friday, we simply don’t know.”

The Miami Times phoned and emailed reached the State Attorney’s Office but did not reach a spokesperson nor did he answer a message left.

Update: Jan. 14, 2020

Three days later, Christian Ulvert, a campaign spokesperson for Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Rundle, responded to The Miami Times' initial email requesting comment from Rundle's campaign regarding Melba Pearson's op-ed published in Florida Politics.

The state attorney has supported and led on responsible reforms to our criminal justice system, including steps to achieve greater fairness to the bond process. These reforms are focused on non-violent offenders who should be offered reasonable efforts to abide by the judicial system through non-bond mechanisms. 

 “Ms. Pearson should offer more specifics to her call for reforms, including her position that would allow violent criminals and others who have committed crimes to be let out on their own word. This could pose great harm to our community.

Eman Elshahawy joined The Miami Times Nov. 2019 as a reporter and multimedia content producer. She graduated from the University of Florida in Summer 2019, where she earned a B.S. in journalism from UF's College of Journalism and Communications.

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