This past week, Manuel “Manny” Madruga could have easily skipped out of jury duty when summoned as a potential juror for a civil case. Over the past 18 years, the Assistant State Attorney and Major Crimes Prosector for the 16th Judicial Court has sent murderers to death row and placed the most heinous criminal offenders behind bars for the rest of their lives.
“I just wanted to participate as a citizen doing my duty,” Madruga says with the same air of confidence used to interrogate defendants or cross-examine witnesses. “That way, when I am asking someone to serve on my jury, I am not a hypocrite. When I ask people to sacrifice, I have to do the same.”
To anyone as familiar with the courtroom as Madruga, a contract dispute or any of the other hundreds of non-criminal lawsuits that fall under the civil category may pale in nature compared to a gruesome murder or some sickening act of violence.
But Monroe County’s top prosecutor has never take the easy way out and on May 29, the Florida Prosecuting Attorney’s Association awarded him with their highest honor – the Gene Berry Memorial Award, For Rendering Exemplary Service To The people Of Florida Above And Beyond the Call of Duty.
“This is the pinnacle of my career,” Madruga confessed, “and to be listed with the other attorneys on this award is truly a humbling honor.”
Like other Floridians, Gene Berry moved to the Sunshine State with a dream. His was to become a lawyer. While raising a family on the salary of a used car salesman, he earned a law degree at the age of 41 and within a year had earned a position as Assistant State Attorney with the 20th Judicial Court in Punta Gorda.
For the next five years, Berry worked felony drug cases and while relaxing at home with family one evening, he was mortally shot by the wife of a man Berry had convicted. Since 1982, the list of Gene Berry Award recipients has grown by only one a year and now, the first attorney from Monroe County will be added to the plaque hanging in the governor’s office.
Madruga joined the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office right out of the University of Miami Law School and was put to work on criminal cases soon after his arrival.
“What I could tell of Manny, even during his interview,” said former State Attorney Kirk Zuelch. “Is that he had the enthusiasm to do a good job. Not only to do a good job, but to do the best job.”
At the age of 26, he prosecuted his first murder trial as a felony prosecutor and in 1998 made national news after prosecuting and convicting Jeff Wallace – who went on a shooting spree at Rum Runners in Key West. His efforts also resulted in a civil commitment to prosecute sexually violent predators pursuant to the Jimmy Ryce Act and in 2000 he conducted the first trial of that nature in Monroe County.
“You just can’t do it as an individual,” Madruga said. “Prosecuting is really a team effort. The work that law enforcement does, the work that our support staff does, the other attorney that is your trial partner does. So this kind of represents the diligence and the good work that people in that office have done for years and the good training that I have got from attorneys that were my supervisors and instilled in me and certain attitude about prosecuting at the highest ethical and professional level.”
Among his many mentors: Ginny Stones, Nikki Robinson, Mark Kohl and Zuelch.
As Monroe County’s State Attorney from 1980 to 2000, Zuelch said he was “thrilled” with Madruga’s selection. Zuelch said he has seen Madruga anticipate questions in the courtroom and says organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of the Keys are benefit immeasurably from Madruga’s participation.
Business up front, charity on the back
The front of Madruga’s business card is typical. Seal of Florida, name, title, and basic contact information, but there is no space on the opposite side for notes. The flipside resembles some kind of non-profit racecar with the logos of his charitable organizations including Leadership Monroe, Rotary International, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Masonic Lodge and Shriners.
Madruga’s current boss, Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward was among the 20 State Attorneys who traveled to Altamonte Springs to honor Madruga’s achievements.
“If you just look at the 20 plus career Manny has had, you can see that he is the top prosecutor in the field,” Ward said. “And the award is not just about prosecuting – it has to do with public service.”