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Senate loses a convicted felon in its midst

The 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach has thrown out the felony grand theft conviction of State Sen. Gary Siplin, the Orlando Democrat convicted of using state employees to aid his 2004 reelection campaign.

Siplin was convicted of both a felony charge and an underlying misdemeanor. The court's ruling orders that Siplin be acquitted of the felony charge and gives state prosecutors the discretion to retry Siplin on the misdemeanor charges. In the ruling, the court states that prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Siplin knew that his legislative aide Naomi Cooper would continue to get paid by the state while she worked full time on his campaign. Because of double jeopardy, the court notes that Siplin cannot be retried on the felony grand theft conviction.

But the court says there is enough evidence to retry Siplin on charges that two other employees, Sarah Caraballo and Jose Bosque, did campaign related work during work hours. Siplin's lawyers tried to get this conviction thrown out on grounds that the law was unconstitutional.

The ruling by the court will bolster Siplin's efforts to keep his law license, and more importantly, remove the main pretext for possible removal by the Senate. Senate President Ken Pruitt had refused to act against Siplin pending his appeal. The grounds for Siplin's removal was that convicted felons lose their right to vote - and the right to be elected. Orange County election officials had already removed Siplin from the voting rolls.