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Meggs on the stand: 'I will take the punishment'

By turns combative and contrite, veteran Florida prosecutor Willie Meggs told a judge today that he accepts full responsibility for the release of grand jury testimony of ex-House Speaker Ray Sansom and former college president Bob Richburg.

State law limits release of grand jury testimony in a criminal case to only the parties involved, but three newspapers got it, too. Defense lawyers want Meggs thrown off the Sansom case because of prosecutorial misconduct in that instance and others.

Meggs testified that he had 16,000 pages of court documents copied to a disk at a private printing center at the request of defense lawyers, and he inadvertently included the transcripts of Sansom's and Richburg's testimony before they were given to the newspapers on June 20, 2009. He said he immediately contacted St. Petersburg Times reporter Alex Leary and ordered the testimony taken off the paper's website.

"I called Alex Leary," Meggs testified. "I said, 'Take it down,' and he took it down immediately."

Meggs said he was preoccupied at the time with taking his son to Shands Hospital in Gainesville for dental surgery related to an earlier bout with cancer. He said he couldn't call his office right away because of a cell phone "dead zone" on I-10 east of Tallahassee, and then forgot to call his office to deal with the improper release of the testimony.

"If the judge wants to hold me in contempt, I will take the punishment," Meggs said as he sucked on a piece of hard candy. "I did it. I did it inadvertently ... I can't unring that bell. I apologize to the court. I didn't intend to do it. I'm not perfect. I can't even spell the word 'hangar' correctly."

The word is spelled 'hanger' in court documents.

Meggs also confirmed he told reporters of the charges against Sansom and two others before they turned themselves in, and did so because Circuit Judge Terry Lewis published the grand jury's findings, known as a presentment.

Meggs seemed annoyed at the persistent questioning by defense attorney Hank Coxe. "You're doin' what you're doin' and God bless you for doin' it," he told Coxe.

- Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau