MAY 2005: Four city commissioners were charged with violating the state’s Open Meetings Law after they met to discuss their investigation of the Broward Sheriff’s Office. State Attorney Michael Satz filed the non-criminal charges as a result of a June 2004 meeting in which the commissioners discussed their investigation into inflated crime statistics. The breakfast meeting with Sheriff Ken Jenne was held without notice and no minutes were taken, according to the charges. Vice Mayor Susan Foster and commissioners George Brummer, Lamar Fisher and Kay McGinn face $500 fines for the violation.
AUGUST 2005: A noncriminal judgment against former Oak Hill City Commissioner Ron Mercer for violating the Sunshine Law was overturned by two circuit judges. Judges John Watson and Edwin Sanders vacated the November 2003 judgment and ordered Mercer’s $500 fine be returned. Mercer and fellow commissioner Bob Jackson reportedly had a private discussion about a mayoral appointment in January 2002. In a joint opinion, the judges found that “the brief exchange between the two officials did not constitute a meeting at which official acts are to be taken or at which public business of such (collegial public) body is to be transacted or discussed.” Assistant State Attorney Phil Havens said the State is likely to seek an appellate review of the opinion. (See also December 2002, July 2003, and November 2003)
OCTOBER 2005: An Ocoee city commissioner was charged with violating the state’s Public Records Law. Commissioner Danny Howell faces one second-degree misdemeanor count and one noncriminal infraction count for discussing potential city business privately with another commissioner. The charges stem from a 2004 phone call to fellow Commissioner Rusty Johnson, where the two allegedly discussed a proposed real estate transaction that was likely to come before the commission. If convicted, Howell could face 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for the misdemeanor charge. Johnson was not charged as a result of the incident.
OCTOBER 2005: Four Pompano Beach city commissioners were charged with violating the state’s public meetings law. On June 4, 2004 Commissioners George Brummer, Kay McGinn, Lamar Fisher and Vice Mayor Susan Foster attended a breakfast with Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne to discuss a crime-reporting controversy. A complaint was filed with the State Attorney by city activist Ed Stanton, who found out about the meeting. If charged, the commissioners could face fines of $500 each.
OCTOBER 2005: An investigation by Collier Deputy Manager Leo Ochs found that the Collier Productivity Committee violated the Sunshine Law when it asked Brad Boaz to leave the room during a public meeting. Boaz, of Barron Collier Partnership, was being considered to fill a vacancy on the committee. The Chamber of Commerce complained to county officials and also contended the Committee opposed the appointment of anyone with a full-time job. Upon the investigation, commissioners also decided to end the practice of ranking candidates it was considering for the position.
DECEMBER 2005: Former North Bay Village Commissioner Armand Abecassis pleaded no contest to two counts of violating the Sunshine Law. Abecassis, 67, was arrested in April 2004, along with then-Mayor Alan Dorne on charges they conspired to remove the city manager. As part of his plea deal for the second-degree misdemeanor charges, Abecassis received six months of probation, was ordered to perform 50 hours of community service, pay court costs and make a $1,000 donation to the United Way. While on probation, Abecassis cannot seek or hold any public office or any form of public employment.
DECEMBER 2005: Ten members of the Polk County Opportunity Council Board of Directors appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to violating Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws. The charges stemmed from a monthly board meeting on Sept. 15 where the board retired to a conference room for a closed-to-the-public meeting, which lasted more than an hour. The State Attorney’s office investigated and filed civil charges that carry a maximum fine of $500. A hearing for the defendants’ motion to dismiss was scheduled for Jan. 26 and a trial has been scheduled for Feb. 22.
DECEMBER 2005: Time, Inc., will pay former Alabama football coach Mike Price 20 million to settle a defamation lawsuit. Price sued the Sports Illustrated after an article appeared about Price’s night of drinking at a topless bar in the Florida panhandle. The settlement also resolves Price’s claims against reporter Don Yaeger who wrote the article. The lawsuit made its way to the 11th U.S. Circuit of Appeals before being settled. Sports Illustrated fought for its right to protect confidential sources that it said were used as part of the report. Price was fired by Alabama a few days before the article was published.