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Ethics Commission Sends Flagler Petition for Attorneys’ Fees to Administrative Law Judge

| September 9, 2016

canvassing board meetings

Into the slaughter: participants entering a canvassing board meeting in 2014, when the meetings were more brawl than business. (© FlaglerLive)

The Florida Commission on Ethics voted unanimously this morning for the five petitions filed by Flagler County government for attorneys’ fees to be heard before a Florida administrative law judge, the county’s public information office reported in a release.

Chris Anderson, the General Counsel of the commission, testified that the petitions which are seeking to recoup the resources used to defend against the ethics cases filed against commissioners Nate McLaughlin, Charlie Ericksen, George Hanns, the late Frank Meeker and County Al Hadeed were adequate to go before an administrative law judge. The complaints were dismissed by the Ethics Commission for lack of probable cause in April 2016.

“These aren’t the kind of petitions we summarily dismiss,” he said, noting that Flagler County’s petitions met the legal criteria to be heard before a judge: the complaints were filed with malicious intent and contained allegations of ethics violations known to be false or were made with “reckless disregard for the truth.”

Former Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks filed two of the five complaints in December 2014 – one against Commissioner Ericksen and a second against Hadeed. Mark Richter Jr. also filed two of the complaints in December 2014 – one against Commissioner McLaughlin and another against Commissioner Meeker. Dennis McDonald filed the fifth complaint against Commissioner Hanns in August 2015.

Mark Herron, the Tallahassee attorney representing Flagler County on behalf of its insurer, said the petitions were a pleading to move on to an administrative law judge for a recommended order with finding of facts and conclusions of law.

Members of the Ethics Commission heard all five petitions and unanimously approved Anderson’s recommendations within 30 minutes.

Neither Weeks, Richter, nor McDonald – or their legal representatives – attended the meeting in Tallahassee. Hadeed attended with Herron as co-counsel. Hanns also was in attendance, though neither he nor Hadeed were called on to testify.

Retired Judge Tom Freeman, of DeBary, made the first motion to approve Anderson’s recommendation in the petition filed by McLaughlin with “great deference” to his opinion and said it is important for the Commission on Ethics to build up a log of cases that address attorneys’ fees.

Vice-chair and Fort Walton Beach attorney Michelle Anchors made two of the motions for approval while Daniel Brady, Miami Shores, and Jacksonville attorney Stanley Weston made the other two.

While most of Anderson’s presentations were similar, he noted that the petition filed by Hanns included a two-page response by McDonald to the Commission on Ethics about violations to his First Amendment rights.

“Defamation of character has always been an exception to free speech,” he said, adding that granting attorney’s fees also does not violate the First Amendment.

Both Hanns and Hadeed appreciated the solemnity of the process.

“I have great confidence and respect for the Ethics Commission and its stewardship of Sunshine laws,” Hadeed said. “I appreciate its professionalism.”

The Department of Administrative Hearings will set a date for the petitions to be heard before an administrative law judge.

“I appreciate the outcome,” Hanns said of Friday’s meeting. “I have always believed justice will prevail.”

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3 Responses for “Ethics Commission Sends Flagler Petition for Attorneys’ Fees to Administrative Law Judge”

  1. Jimmietwoshoes says:

    [Note: the comment below is in error: no probable cause was ever found.–FL]

    Perhaps the Commissioners and Al Hadeed will get what they want, to be open to Florida administrative law judge, this will mean depositions, unlike the previous, process that found them on all of these cases with probable cause after the Ethics Commissions inspectors did a though investigation, before being turned over to the Commission and then found with no probable cause…..

  2. Common Sense says:

    There was nothing to find. The Administrative law judge will review the existing evidence and rule on that.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Maybe the Administrative Law Judge will review the complaints and wonder why they were dismissed and the ethics commission can do some explaining. According to the News Journal the President of the First Amendment Foundation, Barbara Peterson said the complaints may have been dismissed, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have merit.

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