In a pair of one-word rulings on Thursday, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee affirmed lower court decisions against Kimberle Weeks, the former Flagler County Supervisor of Elections, who has been contesting attorneys’ fees she owes the county from two frivolous and defamatory ethics complaints she brought against former County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen and county attorney Al Haddeed.
With interest, Weeks now owes the county a combined $173,500, not including potential fees incurred by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Weeks filed the ethics complaints in late 2014, just before she resigned halfway through her second term as elections supervisor, and as state investigators were investigating her conduct in office. She would soon face numerous felony charges over illegal recordings, including recordings of Hadeed and Ericksen. A jury in 2018 found her guilty on seven felonies. (The count regarding the recording of Hadeed and Ericksen was thrown out beforehand.) She was was sentenced on eight of them, then was resentenced to five of them after an appeals court eliminated three counts.
She served a month in jail and 18 months on probation, and lost her state pension. She was allowed to end her probation early last May, over the objections of Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis, who had prosecuted the case. Earlier, she attempted to have her convictions reduced to misdemeanors. The court denied that.
The state ethics commission threw out her claims against Ericksen and Hadeed in 2015. The county argued that she had filed them with knowing disregard of the truth, making them not only frivolous, but maliciously false, to the detriment of Hadeed’s and Ericksen’s reputation. The county argued before the ethics commission that because of the knowing malice, Weeks should be responsible for all attorneys’ costs incurred. The ethics commission agreed. (Weeks wasn’t the only one who’d filed complaints against county officials later found to be frivolous. Dennis McDonald, husband of School Board member Janet McDonald and a frequent candidate for office–and critic of government spending–was also ordered to pay fees, as was Mark Richter Jr., who no longer lives in the county.)
Weeks contested the county’s pursuit of attorneys’ fees, arguing the same points at various levels–administrative judge, circuit court, appeals court–and representing herself.
“Those cases have really begun in 2017 and have worked their way through the court system, including the Circuit Court in Leon County, twice to the District Court of Appeals,” Hadeed told the County Commission this morning. “Ultimately, the District Court of Appeals recently dismissed her claims as without merit. She claimed that there were due process violations. They found none. She alleged that there the fee award was excessive, which the appellate court denied. She also alleged among other things, that this was what–you may have heard this before–a Slap suit, a strategic lawsuit against public participation. Those are discouraged. The Attorney General pointed out that the suit against Ms. Weeks was not filed because of the exercise of her First Amendment rights but rather because of the statutory obligation of the Attorney General to sue because of her non payment of the prior judgment. So those cases are at an end.”
Weeks had sought to have the cases dismissed. As was her habit when contesting even so much as her budget appropriations before the County Commission years ago, Weeks entombed the court system with filings in attempts top make her case. The appeals court docket in her two cases include a filing of over 1,000 pages. Her initial appeals brief was limited to 21 pages, however. She again makes startling claims. “Flagler County Board of County Commissioners has demonstrated animus and malice toward the three citizens being sued,” she wrote, though her own animus had defined so much of her relationship with county officials when she was in office, and that in fact spurred on her complaints against them.
She complained about the “pejoratives heaped on Ms. Weeks and others engaged in First Amendment protected activity in filing ethics complaints.” She revived decade-old grudges, such as claiming that the commission refused to place her on the agenda while calling her derogatory names. She also revived previous, baseless accusations about “sabotaging elections” as she invoked either Nixon or the Federalist papers, quoted from The Atlantic, and cited many cases, as attorneys writing briefs always do (Weeks is not an attorney, though in her years as supervisor of elections she often publicly disputed attorneys on matter of law). The pleading also summarizes her unsuccessful attempts to move the case from Leon to Flagler.
Anita Patel, a senior assistant state attorney, answered in a brief half the size of Weeks’s, summing up the argument: “There was uncontroverted summary judgment evidence that Ms. Weeks had not paid any of the attorney’s fees and costs award.”
The State Attorney’s Office is entitled to recovering its own fees. “I don’t know if the attorney general is going to move for its fees in resisting those appeals. We’ll just have to wait and see,” Hadeed said.
In the related case against McDonald, who has either barely contested or generally ignored the proceedings (he said in the past that he considers them inapplicable), the judgement amount against him is $79,564. It increases by the statutory interest rate beginning at 6.83 percent per year and is adjusted annually by the Chief Financial Officer. The rounded amount McDonald currently owes, with interest, is $88,600. He continues to appear before the County Commission, the Palm Coast City Council and, less often, before the School Board, to lecture elected officials on probity, responsibility and good governance.