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County Commission Candidate Dennis McDonald Must Pay $59,000 as Court Dismisses His Appeal

| September 17, 2018

Dennis McDonald, usually the tallest man in the room, speaking to a constituent at an event for political candidates earlier this summer. (© FlaglerLive)

Dennis McDonald, usually the tallest man in the room, speaking to a constituent at an event for political candidates earlier this summer. (© FlaglerLive)

A year ago this week, an administrative law judge ordered Dennis McDonald to pay $59,000 in costs and attorneys’ fees to now-ex Flagler County Commissioner George Hanns and the county’s attorney’s office. The charges were incurred defending against an ethics complaint McDonald filed against Hanns in August 2015, and that the state ethics commission found to be not just frivolous, but maliciously false.

The ethics commission ratified the administrative law judge’s order. McDonald appealed the decision to the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Last week (on Sept. 13), the appeals court dismissed the case “for failure to obey the rules and orders” of the court. That means McDonald will have to pay the $59,000 charge.

The next step is the Attorney General filing a civil suit against Mr. McDonald to collect on the $60,000 judgment,” County Attorney Al Hadeed told county commissioners in a Sept. 13 email, forwarding the court’s order.

The dismissal takes place as McDonald is engaged in an election campaign, his fifth, against County Commissioner Greg Hansen, a former friend of McDonald’s and a former member of the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies, the now-defunct far-right group from where sprang numerous electoral challenges and lawsuits against county officials, including the one against Hanns.

McDonald said today the Attorney General has no authority to make him pay.

“It was not worth pursuing because it’s nothing more than a money game fighting against the county that has created all this,” McDonald said, “because I was one of the guys that dug in on the hospital. That’s why all this happened. That’s why they’re pushing this.” McDonald in 2013 and 2014 was critical of the county for buying the old Memorial Hospital that became the Sheriff’s Operations Center. The center was evacuated last June, plagued by atmospheric issues that led to illnesses among more than two dozen employees and that have not been resolved.

But the heart of McDonald’s complaint against Hanns in 2015 wasn’t the hospital. It had to do with Hanns’s service on  the Flagler County Canvassing Board, and through allegations the ethics commission investigated and “were known by McDonald to be false, or filed by McDonald with reckless disregard for whether they were true or false,” a judge’s order read. “McDonald worked in concert with other individuals to maliciously injure the reputation of Hanns by filing complaints containing false allegations material to the Code of Ethics with the Commission on Ethics and other agencies.”

The complaints against Hanns was one of some 25 such complaints Ronald Reagan club members and ex-Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks filed against county officials. (Weeks was found guilty of seven felonies last April in a case tangentially related to the spree of complaints against county officials.)

There were five ethics commission cases in all that led to judgments requiring those who’d filed them, including Weeks and Mark Richter Jr., to reimburse costs and attorneys’ fees. Each case was shadowed by procedural stumbles and lapses as Weeks and McDonald defended against the claims. The same would prove true in McDonald’s appeal, which drew several notices from the court in Tallahassee for procedural corrections. The dismissal order resulted from further rules not being followed.

“Quite honestly as far as the legal aspect is concerned,” MCDonald said, “the money is better spent on a slapp suit, which at this point can quite easily proven.” (A “slapp suit,” an acronym for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” is filed by a government agency or a private concern in an attempt to intimidate or silence a critic. The county’s contention has been that lawsuits like McDonald’s have been malicious attempts to intimidate and discredit public officials.)

“But more important,” McDonald continued, “my attorney tells me the state can’t collect anything. He says there’s no law that allows for it and he’s demanded the state show him their authority and they will not respond. I’ve got one of the best lien guys in the state or in this area.” McDonald retained Flagler Beach attorney Scott Spradley, who could not immediately be reached.

McDonald’s contention: “The ethics commission has no authority on anybody that isn’t a government official or an elected official.” But it is no, longer an ethics case at this point, but a matter of cost and attorneys’ fees incurred by the ethics cases: the ethics commission determined that the McDonald case against Hanns and others like it were maliciously filed, and in a rare move agreed with Flagler County that reimbursements of costs and fees are proper. McDonald attempted to argue the matter on its merits at the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal–essentially conceding the ethics commission’s jurisdiction.

He intended to argue, based on the appeal he filed, that his due process had been violated. But it never got that far as procedural missteps intervened. He never argued that the state had no authority to make him pay, until now. Legally though, now that the appeals court has dismissed his appeal, the ethics commission’s order stands, as does the order to pay the $59,000.

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15 Responses for “County Commission Candidate Dennis McDonald Must Pay $59,000 as Court Dismisses His Appeal”

  1. Eric says:

    This guy is an absolute clown. Just waiting for him to try suing a local government again for tripping on a sidewalk. The way he looks around with his analytical expressions at events makes me think this is definitely one sheisty individual. Again, I guess that would make him an ideal politician in this neck of the woods.

  2. Dennis McDonald says:

    Great picture FlaglerLive !

    This has always been about the “Benefit of a few at the Expense of the many” when Revels was found to benefit her “business associates” eight counts , three of them Violations of the State Constitution. WE the Flagler Taxpayers were violated for $1,230,000 to bail out a Brownfield million dollars !

    Now we have over FORTY Sheriffs HQ employees and deputies with health issues and millions to resolve this. Remember back to 2015 and the pictures I brought to the County that showed the rotten moldy tie down walls. These walls were never changed, the sill plates are a direct violation of Building Code. Has Coffey opened the walls as the Sheriff and some BOCC members requested?…NO ! Is there a Code compliant vapor barrier under the floor ? Why did this building never have a Phase two environment study when Frank Meeker requested it ? Why did Hadeed not tell the County Revels could not Vote on the motion i May and August 2013? Did Coffey and Hadeed {who was terminate by the BOCC in 1998 for $30,000 of billings that the County Clerk Sid Crosby said he will never pay} buddy up with Revels to bring these action against citizens with our tax $$.

    Last October this very Commission with Hansen on board voted to spend $22,000 for two personal Appeals for McLaughlin and Hadeed and again on a RE appeal ! i asked them to be pulled but they Approved anyway.

    Make no mistake the Good Ol Boys are alive and well and former SIXTEEN YEAR DC. Lobbyist Hansen is at the wheel until November 6th. I will never allow party, politics or Personal relationships, compromising ethic public service.

    Vote for Change.

  3. KMedley says:

    Karma… By the way, have either Richter and/or Weeks paid their fines? And before either chime in under an assumed identity, I have paid my debt to the State. Hopefully, McDonald, Richter, and Weeks are as concerned with their debt to the State as they were with mine.

  4. Anonymous says:

    How could the board of county commissioner vote and take an action against an individual who filed a complaint against a singular commissioner and not the board as a whole without voting for their Co-commissioner (the individual commissioner who had a complaint filed against them) without the one who the complaint was filed against personally profiting without violating the law? Also, how can the ethics commission take an action against a citizen to benefit an individual…the ethics commission too allowed them self to be used for ones personal gain. I really dont believe this is the purpose of the ethics commission and it reeks of collusion to be stated to be such a rare occurrence. I agree with McDonald, he has been an advocate for us the people for several years and the BOCC, Coffey and Hadeed took this action against him for being a thorn in their side. Fortunately it has been recognized that Revels, Hanns and McLaughlin had to go and they were voted out of office. No public official should be using their public position to personally gain and I say the ethics commission and Flagler County Government should be investigated for wrong doing.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The ethics doesn’t allow both sides to be heard at probable cause determination hearings….is this to benefit the former Ethics Commission Chair, Mark Herron, who represents a good majority of defendants against the commission and is successful at getting complaints dismissed. Isn’t that convenient!!! The ethics commission has no over site and is accountable to no one. Our representatives need to wake up and represent us the people and not the wrong doers. Dennis McDonald you need to shut down this type of corruption.

  6. Virgil F says:

    Finally! So satisfying to finally see this jerk set in his place by the very system and good people he and his fellow bullies have been exploiting and pushing around for years. I trust the Florida Attorney General will bring his mess to a close by seizing his assets. Send McDonald back to Connecticut to where he can again run for some offices up there. Virgil F

  7. Anonymous says:

    Now that Hanns, Revels and soon to be McLaughlin are out of office and can no longer use tax payers money to defend themselves, let’s see how the next chapter goes when they have to fund their legal defense for using their elected positions to benefit a few. None of this should have ever come up for action by the BOCC when these complaints were actions taken against individuals in their individual cspacities which were not related to their official duties.

  8. Robjr says:

    Those who knock Dennis McDonald are probably the same misinformed, ill-informed, low intellect voters who thought the county buying a moldy, decrepit, deteriorated building from the politically connected was a swell idea.

  9. Fuggetaboutit says:

    I second Eric’s Clown vote!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Coffey should have been fired years ago….this is evidence to show just how long the BOCC has been inept. There is no good reason to retain Craig Coffey and Al Hadeed and it is shameful that the BOCC has given them contracts with golden parachutes. Bottom line is either do the job that is expected of hit the road. Who in their right mind gives a golden parachute to someone that deserves to be fired????? The BOCC needs to revisit these two gold diggers contracts and take away the golden parachutes and hold them accountable and bring their pays down to reality. They are both being paid more than that of the governor and they are putting their pay rates where they want them by leading the BOCC around by the nose.

    Thank you Dennis McDonald for standing up to these neglectful elected officials who are not doing their job of representing us and reminding them Craig Coffey should be fired years ago

    We deserve better!!! I will definitely be voting for Dennis McDonald in November.

  11. Concerned Citizen says:

    Is’t filing a maliciously false lawsuit a criminal action? If so shouldn’t someone be looking into charges? Spreading false information seems to be a reoccurring theme with this guy.

    It seems to me that having the past McDonald has would hamper you for running for a Commissioner seat. I guess in Flagler County history and background doesn’t matter.

  12. palmcoaster says:

    [Note: the commenter is wrong: A circuit judge ruled McDonald’s lawsuit against Palm Coast frivolous, tossed it out and ordered him to pay legal fees. The Ethics Commission more recently did likewise.—-FL]

    McDonald never filed a frivolous lawsuit but to the contrary spent his efforts, time and money defending the county and city residents tax payers monies and also our quality of life when he went after the city for killing our beautiful canopy of Oaks that shaded us while walking along Palm Coast Parkway. Look what looks like and feel now, no shade and is like an oven under this scorching sun no longer promotes healthy walking . Now he uncovers the fraud and millions wasted by Coffey since him and ex-commissioner Rebels and BOCC voted to buy that overpriced infested hospital owned by no one else than the good old boys Chiumento, Intracoastal Bank honcho and associates and wasted over 5 millions to remodel it and now they want more money whether a million or not of our hard earned taxes to prove themselves right? Same with the long illegal SLAPP suits against McDonald, Richter and Weeks to keep them silent wasting thousands in attorney’s fees against honest citizens for uncovering wrong delinquent activities by commissioners, manager and attorney. Is time that this costly charade needs to stop its time for all new BOCC members like we just did booting McLaughlin. We need commissioners that will look to us with respect on the meetings and grant the wishes of the people that sat them there other than disrespectfully texting on the public meetings. That is their body language contrary to “I am listening to the constituents”
    Sure all of our family, friends and acquaintances will vote for McDonald in November we need representation and no more hidden agendas and lies. Keep up the good work Dennis.

  13. Beachbum says:

    Hmmmm, who should we believe here – the court’s ruling and FlaglerLive’s note or the always pro-McDonald “palmcoaster”? Maybe palmcoaster is nothing more than McDonald’s alter ego – He certainly has enough ego to go around.

  14. Al Hadeed says:

    @ Mr. Dennis McDonald:
    You are again retelling falsehoods that investigatory state agencies have found either to be legally insufficient or factually false.

    Here they are one at a time in the order you presented them in your post:

    The Florida Bar Association found and the Ethics Commission twice found that there was no legal merit to the allegation that, as County Attorney, I improperly allowed former Commissioner Revels to vote on the proposed purchase of the hospital site in 2013.

    Moreover, a Flagler County Circuit Court Judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by your allies in 2014 against the County alleging that a conflict of interest affected the governmental action taken. The Court found that there was no basis for the claim and assessed attorney fees payable to the County as a sanction for the misuse of the Court.

    The Florida Bar Association and Ethics Commission likewise both found that there was no legal merit to your allegation that the County Commission fired me over some alleged $30,000 in billings.

    Those agencies also dismissed all of the other related allegations that you and Mr. John Ruffalo have made concerning this time period of the late 1990’s to early 2000’s.

    Indeed, of the 20 cases filed by you and your allies with the Ethics and Elections Commissions and the Florida Bar that were within our office’s jurisdiction, we prevailed on each one. You personally filed three complaints with the Elections Commission and two complaints with the Ethics Commission under oath. All of the agencies totality dismissed these complaints.

    An Administrative Law Judge determined that you filed one of your complaints with false and malicious allegations with the intent of injuring the reputation of the public official. The Judge recommended and the Ethics Commission awarded the County $59,000. You presently owe the taxpayers of this County that amount plus statutory interest.

    The County will deposit the collected funds in its General Fund as partial reimbursement for the hundreds of thousands of dollars that you and your friends have cost the taxpayers of this County. The County Commissioners who received the judgments agreed in writing that these are funds due back to the taxpayers of Flagler County. The Commissioners do not profit from the amounts paid whatsoever, nor unfortunately are they compensated for the malicious damage inflicted on them from your repetitive false allegations.

    Recently, you made a sly and scurrilous allegation that Commissioner Hansen voted to spend funds on attorney fee appeals for two Ethics Commission cases in October 2017. The votes on the two appeals you are referencing occurred on February 15, 2016, prior to Mr. Hansen’s swearing in as a commissioner in January of 2017. The October 2017 vote you complain of was actually to pay for bills already incurred and not any new spending authorizations.

    Finally, you falsely allege that you were unable to address this appeal billing issue at the Commission meeting. Not true, the County Commission publicly discussed these each time they came up, and the Commission each time allowed citizen comment. Mr. McDonald, I have to call it what it is — just another bald-faced lie from you.

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