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Judge refuses to overturn guilty verdict in sunshine law violation

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         FLORIDA         Freedom of Information         Sep 17, 2002    

Judge refuses to overturn guilty verdict in sunshine law violation

  • A decision convicting a county commissioner for holding secret meetings with other officials will stand.

An Okaloosa County judge in Pensacola, Fla., rejected motions Sept. 12 to overturn the conviction of suspended Escambia County commissioner W.D. Childers, who was found guilty on one count of violating Florida’s open meetings law.

Childers, a former Florida Senate President, allegedly breeched the state’s sunshine law on four occasions when he privately discussed public matters with other officials.

An Escambia County jury in June found Childers guilty on the first violation, acquitted him on the second and third counts and deadlocked on the fourth, leading to a mistrial on that charge.

Okaloosa County Judge T. Patterson Maney refused motions to overturn Childers’ conviction on the first count.

Childers’ attorneys have not yet appealed the sunshine law violation and will not be able to do so until Childers’ sentencing occurs, according to attorney Richard Lubin, who took over Childers’ case in mid-July. Childers’ sentencing, which could bring a maximum penalty of $500 and 60 days in jail, has not yet been scheduled, said Lubin.

Maney set a retrial for Oct. 7 to try Childers on the fourth sunshine count that lead to a mistrial. He denied defense motions to move the new trial from Escambia, where extensive news coverage about political corruption continues.

Violating the sunshine law is not the darkest accusation against Childers; he also faces trial for felony offenses including bribery and money laundering. Lubin will defend him during that trial, which is scheduled for February.

(Florida v. Childers) LF

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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