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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

WD Childers bribery case sent back to appeals court

25

February

News Service of Florida: Nearly a decade after former Florida Senate President W.D. Childers was convicted on a bribery charge, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday gave him at least a procedural victory in a challenge stemming from arguments that he didn't receive a fair trial.

The Supreme Court, in a brief order, sent Childers' case back to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta for further consideration. The challenge has been pending in the Supreme Court since 2011, and Childers, 79, already has been released from prison after serving nearly three years.

Amy Adelson, an attorney for Childers, said the Supreme Court order offers another chance to get the conviction vacated, which she said would be "great vindication."

The colorful Childers, who represented Pensacola in the Senate for 30 years, was convicted on bribery and unlawful compensation charges that arose during his later stint on the Escambia County Commission. Childers left the Senate in 2000 because of term limits.

Childers was accused of paying another county commissioner, Willie Junior, for a vote to support buying a soccer complex. Junior reached a plea agreement in which he was required to testify against Childers and the owner of the property involved in the deal, Joe Elliott.

Attorneys for Childers contend that Junior changed his testimony to more-directly implicate Childers, after Elliott received an acquittal. They alleged in court documents that Junior changed his testimony because of concerns about losing the plea deal

Childers, who was accused of giving Junior a cooking pot filled with money, was convicted in April 2003 and was in prison from 2006 to 2009, according to state corrections records.

Monday's Supreme Court order relates to long-running arguments about whether Childers' attorneys were able to fully cross-examine Junior and whether Florida courts properly dealt with the former senator's claims that his federal constitutional rights had been violated. The claims were based on the Sixth Amendment "confrontation clause,'' which focuses on the ability of criminal defendants to cross-examine witnesses.

Childers' attorneys contended that the state 1st District Court of Appeal, in upholding Childers' conviction, did not address the federal constitutional issue. In 2011, a majority of the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected those arguments, prompting the challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court's order does not detail the reasons for sending Childers' case back to the federal appeals court, but it cites another Sixth Amendment case from California that was decided last week.

[Last modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 7:45am]

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