The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Live blogging from the Sansom court hearing

2

September

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Rep. Ray Sansom, ex-college president Bob Richburg and developer Jay Odom -- co-defendants in an alleged scheme to build a $6 million taxpayer-funded airport hangar -- are in court this morning to argue that the case be dropped.

It is just after 9 a.m., and the hearing has begun ... see below for the blow-by-blow.

9:05 a.m. Odom's attorney Jimmy Judkins is up first

Judkins is arguing that the official misconduct statute used in the case cannot apply because there is nothing false about the wording of the 2007 budget appropriation, which granted a joint use emergency operations center for Northwest Florida State College and the city of Destin.

Judkins said whether people had a different idea for the building does not make the document false.

"The Legislature passed this appropriation, and what the appropriation says is the intent of the Legislature," Judkins asserted. "To say it’s false because these parties intended it to be an airplane hangar for Mr. Odom does not affect what the document says."

He added: "There is absolutely no end to the prosecutions that can be brought if the slender read of falsification argued by Mr. Meggs is allowed to go forward."

9:45 a.m. Sansom attorney Steve Dobson

Dobson is continuing the line of argument. "There are no falsehoods in the documents at issue.... There were going to be classrooms in this building. It was going to be a training facility. It would have been used by public safety officials in the event of a hurricane ... thus the language in the appropriations act is absolutely accurate."

Dobson said only the college trustees could authorize a sublease to Odom. "Mr. Sansom couldn't have done it if he tried to," Dobson said, pointing to Sansom, who is seated before Judge Terry Lewis. "There is no way legally he could have done anything to help Jay Odom with this building. The argument is flawed from just a purely legal position."

Now Dobson is arguing that the prosecution of Sansom violates the separation of power provided in the Florida Constitution.

"Even if everything Mr. Meggs says is true, there's not a crime," he said, adding it the sole power of the Legislature to appropriate money. "The entire Legislature voted on this, not just one man. This is an attempt by the state attorney's office to veto by indictment legislation."

Dobson just quoted a column by the St. Petersburg Times' Howard Troxler, which summarized the separation of power argument laid out in a motion to dismiss.

He is now revisiting the history of the project, which began with a $6 million CBIR request the city of Destin made on behalf of Odom in 2007. Sansom has said he did not know about that request, made by Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Marti Coley. It was never appropriated, but Sansom inserted the same amount late in the budget process, without the prior approval of the Department of Education.

10:14 a.m. Hank Coxe, attorney for Bob Richburg

Coxe is making similar arguments. He said the Legislature did vote for an emergency response center and nothing was misrepresented. Whether someone had a different idea of how to use the building is irrelevant, he said. "That doesn’t make it official misconduct, that doesn’t falsify the document that the Legislature passed."

10:22 a.m. The court is taking a 10-minute break. Meggs will respond next. (Photo: During the break, Sansom, right, looks over court papers with his attorney, Steve Dobson.)

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10:39 a.m. The hearing has continued. Change of plans. Meggs will wait until all the defense attorneys have argued their points.

First up is Odom attorney Larry Simpson.

He argues that whenever Odom talks to public officials, "He is exercising his First Amendment right to go and ask his representative to help him, to assist him, to fund a facility that he may be able to lease space in." Odom's motivation and any personal gain he might achieve is irrelevant, Simpson said.

Odomincourt "Quite frankly judge, in this era … there’s been quite a move afoot, especially in state government, to public-private partnerships."

In a motion to dismiss, Odom (at right in picture) alleges he never saw any of the budget documents or had any role in creating them. "The state has to show the defendant in some way helped commit this crime," Simpson said.

11 a.m. Coxe is back up. He noted that Richburg is not a member of the Legislature and argued he had no role in creating the budget documents. He said Richburg cannot be charged with perjury for statements of opinion (whether the college building was a hangar or not) and that must be based on fact.

11:17 a.m. Meggs' turn.

Meggs is rebutting the claim that a budget document cannot "come alive" and represent something other than what it states. He argued established case law does show that misrepresent and falsify are the same thing and that, as a result, elected officials have "fair warning."

Meggs said the document doesn't have to "come alive" because all documents show the purpose was misrepresented. If the budget document said an education facility and airplane hangar, then the case would not exist, he said.

"The Legislature was misled so the document is, in fact, false. The document does not have to come alive. It does not represent the purpose of the appropriation."

The state attorney noted the board of trustees fired Richburg after the airport deal was uncovered and sent the money back to the state. "They sent it back because what was going on was wrong and what was wrong was at the hands of these people," Meggs said, pointing across the room.

"It was a hangar until the college said quit calling it a hangar, rename it a staging area. They did that in 2008, almost two years after the appropriation."

"Ray Sansom was the only person with the authority to make this happen, and he's the only person in the Florida Legislature who had any knowledge of his," Meggs said. "And he misled his fellow legislators."

Meggs just brought up the e-mail Richburg sent Sansom prior to Sansom getting the $6 million that discusses Odom's plan to use the building. Dobson stood up and suggested that Meggs has no evidence Sansom ever read the e-mail. Meggs said the presumption in law is that a person who receives e-mail read the message, which brought chuckles from the defense.

He then invoked another e-mail in which Richburg calls Sansom the "kingpin" in the deal.

11:57 a.m. Judge Lewis asked Meggs about the defense argument that the official misconduct law is so broad that it could be applied to anything the Legislature did. The reply: "That's my job, judge, that's what I do. I have to exercise that discretion every day."

12:04: The hearing has adjourned until 1:30 p.m. so Judge Lewis can attend to other matters. Video: Sansom leaves the courtroom.

1:35 p.m. The hearing has resumed, and Judkins is back up. He says case law, contrary to what Meggs asserted, shows that misrepresentation cannot constitute falsification.

"It's a very important issue," Lewis said, wondering aloud whether the various cases cited should guide his decision. (It's confusing. More on the case law later. For now, you can find the underlying argument in this motion to dismiss. Look for State v. Russ.) "I guess I’m going to have to read that case real close," Lewis said.

JudgeLewis 2 p.m. Lewis posed this hypothetical: He and Judkins work out a deal where Lewis signs an order granting Judkins money for a psychological expert. But both men know the money will go to pay for treatment for Judkins, not his client. The order itself is not false, Lewis said, but the money was not used correctly. Under that, neither lawyer nor judge would be guilty under the official misconduct statute.

Judkins they could fall under bribery or some other law but not the official misconduct. "It's a fairly far-fetched example," Judkins said.

He again said Odom was well within his right to seek funding for a building through the city of Destin and again when he tried to get space in the college building. "That is perfectly legitimate and legal activity on his part," Judkins said. "He was perfectly transparent and straightforward. ... There's just no crime here."

2:10 p.m. Dobson said Sansom took responsibility for the project but "never put the language in the bill." And if he said Odom could use, that would be false, because only the college trustees could authorize that.

But Lewis said what happened after the fact does not matter. The college would be in no position if it hadn't received the money, he said.

"You cannot second guess 120 members of the House of Representatives on what their intent was when they voted to pass legislation," Dobson said. He further said that a reference to Destin Airport was in papers the governor's office reviewed.

"This wasn't a secret. The governor certainly knew it and had the information" but chose not to veto the project," Dobson asserted.

2:30 p.m. The hearing has concluded. Both sides have to file additional paperwork, and Lewis said he would try to have something by Sept. 9. He seemed to knock both sides at times and was sympathetic at times.

Video: State Attorney Willie Meggs and Sansom attorney Steve Dobson speak with reporters after the hearing.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 3:16pm]

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