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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Nine lawmakers won't have to testify in fired state trooper case

Nine state legislators who were subpoenaed to testify in the case of a fired Florida Highway Patrol trooper cannot be forced to testify, a hearing officer has ordered.

The quashing of the subpoenas is in the case of Charles Swindle, who was fired from his job as a trooper after superiors concluded he had falsely charged Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, with lacking proof of car insurance. Swindle is fighting his dismissal and has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday before the Public Employees Relations Commission.

As part of his defense, Swindle sought testimony from nine lawmakers who have been ticketed by law enforcement officers: Sens. John Thrasher, Joe Negron, Charlie Dean and Jeff Clemens, and five House members: Reps. James Grant, Keith Perry, Seth McKeel, Alan Williams and Ed Hooper.

Hearing officer Gregg Riley Morton sided with attorneys for the Legislature, who argued that lawmakers are entitled to a legislative privilege that exempts them from being forced to testify about their legislative duties. Morton also questioned how the lawmakers' testimony would be "relevant" to the circumstances in Swindle's case.

In his order, Morton noted that the subpoenas were "facially insufficient" because they failed to specify that the testimony sought does not relate to the lawmakers' official duties. He noted that state law "dovetails with recent court opinions recognizing that members of the Florida Legislature are entitled to a legislative privilege that exempts them from being compelled to testify about their legislative duties."

Swindle claimed he caught McBurney driving 87 miles per hour in a 70 mph zone on Interstate 10 in Madison as the lawmaker and his wife drove to the one-day organizational session last November in Tallahassee. McBurney insisted his cruise control was set at 75 miles per hour. An internal report by the FHP found that Swindle decided he would "be nice ... and stroke him" by issuing a warning for speeding and a $10 uniform traffic citation for lack of proof of insurance. The internal report quoted McBurney's wife, Deborah, as saying Swindle was "wheeling an dealing" with them.

Investigators concluded that Swindle violated agency rules by falsely citing McBurney for not having proof of insurance, when he did. Col. David Brierton, head of the patrol, fired Swindle on March 15. Swindle's hearing is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the PERC offices in Tallahassee.

 

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 1:07pm]

    

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