Juvenile justice chief is out

Published January 3, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Anthony Schembri, whose efforts to turn around the Department of Juvenile Justice were overshadowed by the death of a youth after a confrontation with boot camp guards, won't be running the agency under Gov. Charlie Crist.

Juvenile crime dropped 18 percent on Schembri's watch, but his tenure was marred by the death of Martin Lee Anderson after the 14-year-old was struck and kicked by guards at a boot camp for juvenile offenders in Panama City. The camp was run for the department by the Bay County Sheriff's Office, but Schembri took much of the heat from angry lawmakers, who killed the boot camp program.

Schembri, a former New York City Corrections Department head who was named by Gov. Jeb Bush to the Department of Juvenile Justice post in May 2004, had said in a November resignation letter to Bush that he would like to continue serving under the Crist administration.

But Crist announced Tuesday that Schembri's chief of staff, Cynthia Lorenzo, will be interim secretary of the agency, and a spokeswoman confirmed that Schembri won't be kept on.

Schembri said Tuesday he tried to run the department based more on research about what really works in reducing juvenile crime. While much of the attention heaped on the agency was about treatment, such as the boot camps, he said his main focus was on prevention.

"People would rather not get murdered than us getting very good at solving murders," said Schembri, who was the model for the TV series The Commish.

Schembri was widely praised for improving morale at the department, and he said that was what he was happiest about.

He said he was mulling offers of university teaching positions. And he recently finished writing a detective novel set in Russia called The Brooklyn Solution. He plans to move back to Inverness in Citrus County.

Schembri came to the department hoping to improve the way Florida deals with juvenile crime in the wake of several high-profile incidents, including the death of a 17-year-old who went for three days without treatment for a burst appendix in a Miami-Dade County detention center.

Before becoming Schembri's chief of staff, Lorenzo was his chief spokeswoman. Before that, she was a public information officer for the Transportation Department.

Crist on Tuesday named five other interim secretaries to run agencies until permanent leaders take over:

- Dr. Joseph Chiaro will be interim health secretary. He is currently the agency's deputy secretary for children's medical services and the deputy state health officer.

- Charles Corley will be interim secretary of elder affairs. He is currently the department's director of statewide community-based services.

- Stephanie Kopelousos will be interim secretary of transportation until the Florida Transportation Commission selects a new secretary. She currently is federal programs coordinator for the agency.

- Barney Ray will be interim head of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. He is currently its deputy director of budget and planning.

- Janice Browing will run the Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the state's growth management laws, until Crist's nominee to head the agency, Tom Pelham, assumes the job. She is currently the agency's assistant secretary and chief of staff.