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Five legislators may testify in case of fired state trooper

Five state House members, all of whom have been stopped and given traffic citations by state troopers, could be forced to give testimony in the upcoming case of Charles Swindle, a highway patrolman who was fired over his handling of a stop involving a lawmaker.

The Florida Highway Patrol fired Swindle last month after an internal investigation concluded he broke agency rules in his handling of a stop on I-10 last Nov. 19 involving Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville. Swindle said his radar gun clocked McBurney at 87 miles per hour in a 70 mph zone in rural Madison. But rather than give the lawmaker a speeding ticket, Swindle gave him a $10 citation for not having proof of insurance and said he told McBurney: "I'm cutting you a break on this one."

McBurney denied he was speeding. He did have an insurance card in his wallet, and he complained to the FHP, which fired Swindle March 15.

Swindle's attorney, Sidney Matthew of Tallahassee, is challenging the firing in a hearing scheduled for May 2 before the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC). His petition says the state "has engaged in unlawful disparate treatment by dismissing (Swindle) for substantially the same doncut in which other similarly situated FHP troopers were not dismissed."

Besides McBurney, Matthew notes in his PERC filing, he plans to subpoena Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, who also was stopped by Swindle on Nov. 19 and three others cited in the past year: Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Gainesville; Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa; and Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater. Also on the witness list: McBurney's wife Deborah, who was riding with her husband that day on I-10, and Swindle's former superior officer, Sgt. Gary Dawson, who was described in an inspector general's report as approving Swindle's handling of the McBurney case.

Matthew was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment. The day of the hearing is the next-to-last day of the regular legislative session, and a state law requires that any legal proceeding involving a member of the Legislature "shall stand continued" for 15 days after the session ends.

-- Steve Bousquet

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