Thursday, April 02, 2020

Florida Attorney General, SLAPP-Happy Flagler County Burghers, Violating First Amendment?

Chinese ophthalmologist Dr.  Li Wenliang warned of (and later died from) coronavirus. For practicing the scientific method, Li was accused falsely of spreading "false rumors, he was threatened and silenced by Chinese police. 

Too often, governments and businesses conceal wrongdoing and violate our rights to report wrongdoing, or "blow the whistle." 

It's unAmerican to treat dissenters as enemies.  Civil War General Carl Schurz, a German immigrant, said "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

In Flagler County, a developer recently sued an outspoken local citizen for "libel."  (The citizen just won election March 17, the first African-American ever elected to Flagler Beach City Commission -- J. Kenneth Bryan, former St. Johns County Commissioner.)

Meanwhile Florida's  Attorney General Ashley Moody has filed illegal Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) against three (3) reformers, seeking in excess of $311,666 in retaliation for their filing "malicious" ethics complaints against Flagler County officials. 

The Florida AG sued reformers -- former Republican Commission candidate Dennis McDonald;  Mark Richter, Jr., son and namesake of another former Republican Commission candidate; and former Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Kimberle B. Weeks, a Democrat -- demanding they pay $311,666 for inflated legal fees for five officials: the Flagler County Attorney, Albert Hadeed, County Commissioners Charles Erickson, Jr., Frank Meeker, Nathan (Nate) McLaughlin and George Hanns (now deceased).  

Florida's strong anti-SLAPP law (Florida Statute 786.295) forbids SLAPP suits.  But as President Kennedy said during the Cuban Missile Crisis, "there's always some poor SOB who doesn't get the word."  

I wrote Attorney General Moody on March 10, with no response:  "Please investigate.   As a person who may wish to file ethics complaints in the future, my free speech rights are chilled by what the State of Florida is doing ... I believe that you will agree: these unconstitutional SLAPP suits are beneath the dignity of the State of Florida, violate public policy, contrary to the genius of a free people."

Oxymoronic, other-directed, mostly-moribund Florida "Ethics Commission" dismissed ethics complaints without a hearing, then authorized an action for attorney fees after an Administrative Law Judge held a hearing in absentia in Tallahassee, refusing to go to Flagler County.  No telephone participation was permitted.  ALJ Suzanne Hays Van Wyk, 53, is a former lobbyist-lawyer for county governments.  ALJ Van Wyk ran and lost a 2018 election to be a judge, raising some $62,000 from nearly 200 lawyers and law firms. (She never resigned to run.) Judge Van Wyk then applied for a 2019 Circuit Court judge vacancy.)   She's married to a developer lawyer of 52-lawyer Hopping, Green & Sams ("We are three floors of governmental lawyers, three blocks from the capitol building of what will soon become the Nation’s third most populous state.")

Tallahassee uber-lawyer Mark Herron persuaded the Florida Attorney General to sue three Flagler County residents in retaliation for filing ethics complaints -- confessing to AP: "Mark Herron, an election law attorney based in Tallahassee: "You can do almost anything in Florida if you put it in the right bucket.... They handle nickel and dime cases but overlook the huge problems of unregulated and improper spending," Herron said. "They will kill you to death if you don't file a report on time or don't put a disclaimer on a sign. But to deal with these big issues? It ain't happening."

Political bosses, like Flagler County Attorney Al Hadeed & Co., are freighted with malice toward the three citizens sued.  If they win, who will dare file ethics complaints?   Enough SLAPP-happy retaliatory government officials.

Documents in Florida Ethics Commission. Google Drive through 4/15 here:

Adopted by vote of 114-1 in the Florida House and unanimously in Florida Senate, the 2015 amendment to F.S. 786.295 bans SLAPPs. But another Florida statute, F.S. 112.317(7) still states that the Florida AG "shall" file civil actions where a person has been found to have filed defective complaints with the Ethics Commission, defined as "complaint against a public officer or employee with a malicious intent to injure the reputation of such officer or employee by filing the complaint with knowledge that the complaint contains one or more false allegations or with reckless disregard for whether the complaint contains false allegations of fact material to a violation of this part."   

Do anti-SLAPP law and the First Amendment alike command that the AG's lawsuit be dismissed? 

My research and investigation is continuing.  

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Florida AG Ashley Moody, please drop your unseemly, unconstitutional, immoral, illegal SLAPP. 

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