Wednesday, September 06, 2023

County Court Clerk Sued for Retaliatory Firing of Inspector General for Not Revealing Confidential Informant

Elected Republican St. Johns County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller BRANDON J. PATTY looked a little bit sheepish at the September 5, 2023, St. Johns County Commission meeting, where he has a speaking role at every meeting, reporting from. the Clerk's office on matters of public interest. 

In his report, Clerk BRANDON J. PATTY did not report that his office has been sued August 25, 2023, under our Florida whistleblower law for alleged  retaliation for legally protected activity and wrongful termination of St. Johns County Inspector General NILSA ARISSA, who was in the position since 2020.

BRANDON J. PATTY is the former Chair of the St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee, and he once ran for Congress, until Rep. RONALD DION DeSANTIS withdrew from the race (after MARCO ANTONIO RUBIO decided in 2020 that he would run for re-election after all).

The Florida whistleblower lawsuit alleges that Clerk PATTY demanded to know the name of a confidential informant who reported in December 2022 that PATTY was planning to hire an employee with whom he had an inappropriate personal relationship.  

BRANDON J. PATTY allegedly suspended and fired Clerk Arissa after she declined to identify the identity of the confidential informant.

BRANDON J. PATTY is married with three (3) children.

The lawsuit seeks reinstatement, damages, backpay and injunctive relief, and a jury trial is request3d in Circuit Court. 

The former Inspector General's lawsuit is assigned to Circuit Court Kenneth J. Janesk. 

The lawsuit states that Inspector General Nilsa Arissa began work as IG on August 17, 2020 and was fired on March 2, 2023, based on false and pretextual reasons.  

The lawsuit is Case No. CA23-1717 and may be read on the Clerk's website. 

The person with whom he allegedly had an inappropriate relationship went to work for the Clerk of Courts in January 2023 as Chief Administrative Officer. Her LinkedIn biography indicates she was Assistant to the Deputy County Administrator until December 2022.  She recently posted on social media that the Clerk is hiring people to work for the Inspector General, which is still unaccredited.  Pay range is some $86,528.00 - $129,792.00 Annually


PATTY (right) on election night 2020 with controversial Republican Senator-developer TRAVIS JAMES HUTSON. (left) and Republican County Commission Chairman CHRISTIAN WHITEHURST (center).

The Clerk's website provides this background on Clerk BRANDON J. PATTY:

Appointed in December 2019 by Governor Ron DeSantis and elected in 2020, Brandon Patty serves as clerk of the circuit court and comptroller for St. Johns County. In this role, he manages a $7.5 million budget and a staff of 100 responsible for more than 1,000 constitutional and regulatory duties – everything from maintaining court records to issuing passports and marriage licenses. Since his appointment, Patty has reinforced the office’s focus on providing superior customer service, serving as auditor and custodian of county funds, maintaining county records and partnering with the court system on behalf of all St. Johns County residents.

Patty brings significant leadership and management experience from the private sector and the military to his role as clerk of court and comptroller. In addition to serving most recently as director of operations for St. Augustine-based Defenshield, he worked with some of America’s largest companies as a consultant for Deloitte. Previously, he served as a special assistant to Gov. Jeb Bush and as policy director for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

A lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, Patty has served on active duty at the National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office in Washington, DC and in the Middle East in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He currently serves as an Information Warfare Officer at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

Patty is a second-generation Floridian and the first member of his family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

He resides in St. Augustine with his wife Brittney and their three sons, Carter, Graham and Mason.

Here is Florida's whistleblower law:

View Entire Chapter
112.3187 Adverse action against employee for disclosing information of specified nature prohibited; employee remedy and relief.
(1) SHORT TITLE.Sections 112.3187-112.31895 may be cited as the “Whistle-blower’s Act.”
(2) LEGISLATIVE INTENT.It is the intent of the Legislature to prevent agencies or independent contractors from taking retaliatory action against an employee who reports to an appropriate agency violations of law on the part of a public employer or independent contractor that create a substantial and specific danger to the public’s health, safety, or welfare. It is further the intent of the Legislature to prevent agencies or independent contractors from taking retaliatory action against any person who discloses information to an appropriate agency alleging improper use of governmental office, gross waste of funds, or any other abuse or gross neglect of duty on the part of an agency, public officer, or employee.
(3) DEFINITIONS.As used in this act, unless otherwise specified, the following words or terms shall have the meanings indicated:
(a) “Adverse personnel action” means the discharge, suspension, transfer, or demotion of any employee or the withholding of bonuses, the reduction in salary or benefits, or any other adverse action taken against an employee within the terms and conditions of employment by an agency or independent contractor.
(b) “Agency” means any state, regional, county, local, or municipal government entity, whether executive, judicial, or legislative; any official, officer, department, division, bureau, commission, authority, or political subdivision therein; or any public school, community college, or state university.
(c) “Employee” means a person who performs services for, and under the control and direction of, or contracts with, an agency or independent contractor for wages or other remuneration.
(d) “Gross mismanagement” means a continuous pattern of managerial abuses, wrongful or arbitrary and capricious actions, or fraudulent or criminal conduct which may have a substantial adverse economic impact.
(e) “Independent contractor” means a person, other than an agency, engaged in any business and who enters into a contract, including a provider agreement, with an agency.
(a) An agency or independent contractor shall not dismiss, discipline, or take any other adverse personnel action against an employee for disclosing information pursuant to the provisions of this section.
(b) An agency or independent contractor shall not take any adverse action that affects the rights or interests of a person in retaliation for the person’s disclosure of information under this section.
(c) The provisions of this subsection shall not be applicable when an employee or person discloses information known by the employee or person to be false.
(5) NATURE OF INFORMATION DISCLOSED.The information disclosed under this section must include:
(a) Any violation or suspected violation of any federal, state, or local law, rule, or regulation committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor which creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public’s health, safety, or welfare.
(b) Any act or suspected act of gross mismanagement, malfeasance, misfeasance, gross waste of public funds, suspected or actual Medicaid fraud or abuse, or gross neglect of duty committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor.
(6) TO WHOM INFORMATION DISCLOSED.The information disclosed under this section must be disclosed to any agency or federal government entity having the authority to investigate, police, manage, or otherwise remedy the violation or act, including, but not limited to, the Office of the Chief Inspector General, an agency inspector general or the employee designated as agency inspector general under s. 112.3189(1) or inspectors general under s. 20.055, the Florida Commission on Human Relations, and the whistle-blower’s hotline created under s. 112.3189. However, for disclosures concerning a local governmental entity, including any regional, county, or municipal entity, special district, community college district, or school district or any political subdivision of any of the foregoing, the information must be disclosed to a chief executive officer as defined in s. 447.203(9) or other appropriate local official.
(7) EMPLOYEES AND PERSONS PROTECTED.This section protects employees and persons who disclose information on their own initiative in a written and signed complaint; who are requested to participate in an investigation, hearing, or other inquiry conducted by any agency or federal government entity; who refuse to participate in any adverse action prohibited by this section; or who initiate a complaint through the whistle-blower’s hotline or the hotline of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Department of Legal Affairs; or employees who file any written complaint to their supervisory officials or employees who submit a complaint to the Chief Inspector General in the Executive Office of the Governor, to the employee designated as agency inspector general under s. 112.3189(1), or to the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The provisions of this section may not be used by a person while he or she is under the care, custody, or control of the state correctional system or, after release from the care, custody, or control of the state correctional system, with respect to circumstances that occurred during any period of incarceration. No remedy or other protection under ss. 112.3187-112.31895 applies to any person who has committed or intentionally participated in committing the violation or suspected violation for which protection under ss. 112.3187-112.31895 is being sought.
(a) Any employee of or applicant for employment with any state agency, as the term “state agency” is defined in s. 216.011, who is discharged, disciplined, or subjected to other adverse personnel action, or denied employment, because he or she engaged in an activity protected by this section may file a complaint, which complaint must be made in accordance with s. 112.31895. Upon receipt of notice from the Florida Commission on Human Relations of termination of the investigation, the complainant may elect to pursue the administrative remedy available under s. 112.31895 or bring a civil action within 180 days after receipt of the notice.
(b) Within 60 days after the action prohibited by this section, any local public employee protected by this section may file a complaint with the appropriate local governmental authority, if that authority has established by ordinance an administrative procedure for handling such complaints or has contracted with the Division of Administrative Hearings under s. 120.65 to conduct hearings under this section. The administrative procedure created by ordinance must provide for the complaint to be heard by a panel of impartial persons appointed by the appropriate local governmental authority. Upon hearing the complaint, the panel must make findings of fact and conclusions of law for a final decision by the local governmental authority. Within 180 days after entry of a final decision by the local governmental authority, the public employee who filed the complaint may bring a civil action in any court of competent jurisdiction. If the local governmental authority has not established an administrative procedure by ordinance or contract, a local public employee may, within 180 days after the action prohibited by this section, bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction. For the purpose of this paragraph, the term “local governmental authority” includes any regional, county, or municipal entity, special district, community college district, or school district or any political subdivision of any of the foregoing.
(c) Any other person protected by this section may, after exhausting all available contractual or administrative remedies, bring a civil action in any court of competent jurisdiction within 180 days after the action prohibited by this section.
(9) RELIEF.In any action brought under this section, the relief must include the following:
(a) Reinstatement of the employee to the same position held before the adverse action was commenced, or to an equivalent position or reasonable front pay as alternative relief.
(b) Reinstatement of the employee’s full fringe benefits and seniority rights, as appropriate.
(c) Compensation, if appropriate, for lost wages, benefits, or other lost remuneration caused by the adverse action.
(d) Payment of reasonable costs, including attorney’s fees, to a substantially prevailing employee, or to the prevailing employer if the employee filed a frivolous action in bad faith.
(e) Issuance of an injunction, if appropriate, by a court of competent jurisdiction.
(f) Temporary reinstatement to the employee’s former position or to an equivalent position, pending the final outcome on the complaint, if an employee complains of being discharged in retaliation for a protected disclosure and if a court of competent jurisdiction or the Florida Commission on Human Relations, as applicable under s. 112.31895, determines that the disclosure was not made in bad faith or for a wrongful purpose or occurred after an agency’s initiation of a personnel action against the employee which includes documentation of the employee’s violation of a disciplinary standard or performance deficiency. This paragraph does not apply to an employee of a municipality.
(10) DEFENSES.It shall be an affirmative defense to any action brought pursuant to this section that the adverse action was predicated upon grounds other than, and would have been taken absent, the employee’s or person’s exercise of rights protected by this section.
(11) EXISTING RIGHTS.Sections 112.3187-112.31895 do not diminish the rights, privileges, or remedies of an employee under any other law or rule or under any collective bargaining agreement or employment contract; however, the election of remedies in s. 447.401 also applies to whistle-blower actions. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, ch. 86-233; s. 1, ch. 91-285; s. 12, ch. 92-316; s. 1, ch. 93-57; s. 702, ch. 95-147; s. 1, ch. 95-153; s. 15, ch. 96-410; s. 20, ch. 99-333; s. 2, ch. 2002-400; s. 37, ch. 2023-8.

From docket on St. Johns County Clerk of Court and Comptroller website:

Case Number:
Clerk File Date:
Total Fees Due:
Agency Report Number:
Court Type:
Circuit Civil 
Uniform Case Number:
Status Date:
Custody Location:
Case Type:
Discrimination Employment or Other 
Waive Speedy Trial:
No Events on Case
  18/25/2023CASE FILED 08/25/2023 CASE NUMBER CA23-1717 


Rick Norwood said...

My sincere hopes reach out to Ms. Nilsa Arissa, for a quick reinstatement, settlement and speedy accreditation with FDLE for the County’s Inspector General’s Office. Ms. Arissa is proving herself to be a formidable person with the resolve and determination to stand up to abusive Saint Johns County political power brokers, a trait that is sorely needed by us, the residents of this entire community.

Anonymous said...

Considering the deplorable actions by our former county admit, Hunter Conrad, I doubt this is the.last lawsuit we will be seeing this year. Our county commissioners took an oath to protect our government. Where is their referral to the ethics commission about this guy? Here,again, we have a county official using our government for personal gain! I am so disgusted at the sheer gaul of these men
They literally think they can do anything they want to and expect protection from the party. Where are our leaders now? What do they have to say for themselves? The only thing they understand is a lawsuit. So sad for our county. I What else has he have done to stain the fabric of our community.? Get him out before he can hurt us even more. I remind you all, you are "entitled" via payment of taxes, to good faith expenditures of your tax dollars. This is not it. Looks like county administration needs a house cleaning. The county commission has a quorum of seats up for election next November! Find a great candidate, run for office. It's our government!

Anonymous said...

With a seemingly neverending stream of conservative Republicans to fill those commission seats... you just expect more of the same bullshit. Conservative Dem Ed wouldn't be too much different, only less development. Progress cost money and nobody wants to tax the rich in SJC. It's "one of the richest counties" yet that doesn't reflect in public services or job opportunities. Solution is to keep taxes as low as possible and piss and moan about taxes? What is really going on here other than real estate and places for people to eat?