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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

ACLU: Charlie Crist's 'abuse of power'



Gov. Charlie Crist is getting in a tussle with the ACLU over his decision to re-suspend Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence Jones. Crist might owe her a debt of public-relations gratitude. She's forcing an issue that 1) could make him look like an anti-corruption crusader and 2) allows him to fight the ACLU, a gold star among the Republican electorate as he runs for U.S. Senate.

Background here. ACLU press release and documents here:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today moved to intervene in Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence Jones’ lawsuit against Governor Crist. The ACLU is seeking to enter the lawsuit on behalf of five voters in District 5 who voted for her in the recent special election, held on January 12.

Governor Crist suspended Spence Jones from her post as City Commissioner on November 13, 2009, after she was charged with improperly directing government funds to family businesses. Spence Jones emerged as the clear winner over eight other challengers in a January 12, 2010 special election, for which she was qualified to be a candidate. 

The five Commission District 5 voters, through their ACLU attorneys, maintain that she is eligible to remain in office since the voters elected her with the knowledge of the pending criminal charges. Spence Jones has not been tried or convicted; however the Governor suspended her again on January 14, 2010.

“Governor Crist has no authority to strip the voters of District 5 of their chosen representative,” stated Muslima Lewis, Director of the ACLU of Florida’s Voting Rights Project. “The Governor is trampling on the rights of voters who elected Spence Jones back into office with full knowledge of the charges against her. She is innocent until proven guilty.

-- Marc Caputo

“This is a first-of-its kind abuse of power by a Florida governor. No other public official who was returned to office by voters following a suspension due to a criminal charge has been removed from office a second time while the charges are still pending.”

In Florida, the Governor has the right to suspend a public official for only specified acts of misfeasance or neglect of duty. However, if that official is then re-elected, and the voters were fully aware of the pending charges, they are entitled to take office absent new misconduct specified by Florida law.

“There is a real sense of urgency to resolve this matter in a swift and just manner,” said Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director. “If the voters’ choice is not honored, the Miami City Commission may appoint someone else to fill her seat. The people in District 5 are entitled to representation by the candidate they elected.”

The ACLU legal team representing the Commission District 5 voters includes lead counsel Benedict P. Kuehne, ACLU cooperating attorney; ACLU of Florida Voting Rights project Director Muslima Lewis; and Maria Kayanan and Randall Marshall of the ACLU of Florida.

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[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 1:15pm]


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