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Court to those who file false ethics complaints: Pay up!

The First District Court of Appeal this week ordered the Florida Commission on Ethics to force two political opponents of Santa Rosa Property Appraiser Greg Brown to pay the costs and attorney fees incurred by Brown in defending himself against two ethics complaints.

The Ethics Commission had concluded that the complaints filed by Robert Burgess and Hilton Kelly had no merit and called them "shameful" and politically motivated. But they turned down a request from Brown to force the two to pay roughly $40,000 in attorney fees and other costs, despite a recommendation from an administrative law judge that sided with Brown.

But the ruling written by Judge Phil Padavano said that the Ethics Commission was wrong because commissioners believed they needed to show "actual malice" by Burgess and Kelly, in accordance to the standards set down by the U.S. Supreme Court in libel cases. Padavano said the Legislature did not include "actual malice" in the statute that allows someone to recover attorney fees and he noted that Burgess and Kelly did not make their statements in a press conference, but instead filed a complaint against him.

"The First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of expression, but it would be a far cry to extrapolate from this proposition that the First Amendment also guarantees a right to initiate a legal proceeding based on false allegations,'' wrote Padavano in an opinion approved by a three-judge panel, including Clay Roberts, the former elections division head appointed to the court by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Comments

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Larry Gillis

I am DELIGHTED that we are finally fighting back against the "Culture of Complaint".

I think that persons who casually fling these mudballs -- by filing complaints -- should be held to account, along with their lawyers (if any).

It is to be regretted that attorneys' fees were not also awarded, because that's where the money is in these cases. We should adopt the English Rule, which says that "fees follow the finding". Then, the losers can sue their own lawyers for being such idiots and giving such poor advice. No more "strike suits", as they are called.

The problem would self-correct, and quickly. The Ethics Commission has a real opportunity here. I hope they make use of it...

Epol

uh, larry, dear, you might want to do a little reading before you post again.

you don't need a lawyer to file an ethics complaint. the people filing these ethics complaints did not use lawyers.

Epol

uh, larry, dear, you might want to do a little reading before you post again.

you don't need a lawyer to file an ethics complaint. the people filing these ethics complaints did not use lawyers.

Uber-Pol

Larry, the Ethics Commission follows the law, or what it thinks the law is. It can't just make up the law because you don't like the law.

The law in question, interestingly, only applies to incumbents. The can file a friviolous ethics complaint against their challengers, and not have to worry about paying legal fees.

Pretty good deal.

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