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Former senator loses appeal over Sunshine Law violation

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    News Media Update         FLORIDA         Freedom of Information    

Former senator loses appeal over Sunshine Law violation

  • An appellate court upheld the conviction and jail sentence for an Escambia county commissioner and former state Senate president who violated open meetings law by meeting in secret with other commissioners.

Oct. 13, 2004 — A former Florida Senate president’s conviction and 60-day jail sentence for violating Florida’s Sunshine Law as a county commissioner was upheld Thursday by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal. W.D. Childers, convicted by a jury in 2002 after he discussed public business in private with a fellow Escambia County commissioner, has already served 38 days of his sentence, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

Florida’s Sunshine Law requires that meetings between two or more members of the same elected or appointed board or commission be held in public with notice given and minutes taken.

A grand jury indicted all but one of the county commissioners on charges of violating the Sunshine Law, said Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore.

Elmore said the appellate panel’s unwritten decision could indicate that the issue is over.

“I can’t read the minds of the District Court,” he said. “I have to assume they would consider any new approach taken in a rehearing. It simply appears to me the fact they didn’t [write an opinion] pretty well indicates that it’s laid to rest.”

Childers’ attorney, Richard Lubin of West Palm Beach, said his client, who served in the Florida Legislature for 30 years, is not in jail and hopes not to have to return to jail.

“I just signed my motion for a rehearing,” Lubin said. “This case has a long history. It has to do with a public official charged with violating a Sunshine Law and the question of if can you express opinion to other officials if there isn’t an opinion issued back.”

The revelation of a Sunshine Law violation came as a result of a criminal investigation by the state attorney’s office into corruption allegations on the Escambia Board of County Commissioners, Elmore said.

“As that investigation went forward, the violations of the Sunshine Law surfaced,” he said.

“In all likelihood, our office will try to get [the judge] to set a hearing to send [Childers] to the sheriff’s office to serve out the rest of his sentence,” he added. “I found it very interesting in the appeal that the First Amendment Foundation filed an amicus brief, and I thought it was a very good brief. It all turned out about as I expected it would.”

The First Amendment Foundation works to ensure free speech and open government in Florida.

(Childers v. Florida) CB

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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