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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Judge dismisses official misconduct charge against Sansom. Perjury charge stands



A4s_sansom012309_53777c A circuit judge has dismissed the official misconduct charge against ex-House Speaker Ray Sansom, developer Jay Odom and former college president Bob Richburg, calling the charge unconstitutional.

"It is natural to want to punish those involved," Judge Terry Lewis wrote. "But not every wrongful conduct is a crime. Sometimes the remedy for such conduct must be political rather than judicial. This is one of those situations."

The judge may have left a second part of the misconduct charge stand, and Sansom's attorney was digesting that. But the decision still blows a hole in State Attorney Willie Meggs's case. "We're delighted," attorney Steve Dobson said, adding Sansom, "thinks it was absolutely the right decision. It’s what we have been saying all along."

The three men were charged with official misconduct for their alleged role in securing $6 million for an airport building that Odom at one point wanted to use to store planes for his corporate jet business, Destin Jet.

"The fact that Mr. Sansom may have misled other members of the Legislature by hiding from them his 'true' intent, does not make the appropriations act itself false. The act authorizes funds for 'Okaloosa Jt Use Emergency Response Workforce Center' Either the act, as worded, authorizes construction of an aircraft hangar, or it doesn't. If it does authorize it, under applicable rules and regulations, then it is not false. If it doesn't authorize such an expenditure, then the construction of a hangar is not lawful. Either way, the act itself is not false."

A perjury charge against Sansom, related to a different funding request in 2008, was allowed to stand. The perjury charge against Richburg was dismissed.

Sansom's lawyer had argued that prosecution "amounts to an unconstitutional encroachment by the executive branch upon the legislative branch" and would have an "enormous chilling effect" and would place "unmanageable expectations" on the Legislature. Attorney Steve Dobson had said that the Florida statute allowing for the official misconduct charge is so broad that a prosecutor could go after any suspect legislative budget item (more on that here and here).

Lewis agreed. But in recapping the allegation he wrote, "A fair reading of the grand jury's presentment should give pause to members of the Legislature, and anyone else who cares about public trust and confidence in our government institutions. The grand jurors were extremely critical of the conduct of Mr. Sansom, concluding that he had 'violated the trust that the citizens of Florida should expect from its elected representatives.' But they were also critical of a process and a culture in the Legislature that not only tolerates such conduct, but seems to think little of it."

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 2:21pm]


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