Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Did you hear the one about Buddy Johnson?

So did you hear the one about the process server who spent 18 days trying to track down an elected official who never seemed to be in his office and whose employees seemed clueless as to his whereabouts?

And how, later at a deposition, that same elected official couldn't seem to answer dozens of questions about office procedures?

How he asked at one point, "Is this a quiz?"

You almost have to laugh.

Almost.

Just when you thought the Buddy Johnson stories couldn't pile any higher comes the one about the Hillsborough elections supervisor and the torturous-sounding two-day deposition.

Johnson, a former state legislator, was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003 and has been making news ever since.

We had some hide-and-seek with voting sites, lots of office turmoil, 200-plus votes uncounted for weeks after an election, and a public official who owed thousands in back property taxes, to name a few.

Some of those Bungling Buddy stories might have been amusing but for the fact that they were about the guy whose job is to protect the integrity of our elections.

(Okay, the one about him having those cows grazing on his property that he named Oak Creek Estates while he hopes for a big agricultural tax exemption — that one was funny.)

So Johnson and some other elections supervisors were subpoenaed to testify as part of a voting rights suit filed by the NAACP against Florida's secretary of state over a voter registration issue.

Important detail: Johnson was not the accused, merely a witness.

The Times' Jeff Testerman reported that a process server went to Johnson's downtown and Brandon offices but was told by the staff he wasn't there or it couldn't reach him. Messages weren't returned. Johnson, whose attorney later denied he ducked service and said he was willing to testify, got that summons after 18 days, according to the server's notes. Sounds like a long time not to be able to find a public official.

At the deposition, Johnson appeared unable to answer some questions about specific workings of his office. He said he was the leader, the vision guy who headed a 33-member staff, not the "minutia" man.

Questions were as basic as whether notices were sent in both English and Spanish. By the NAACP lawyers' count, Johnson couldn't answer questions in 23 areas.

Johnson wouldn't talk about the degrees he held or even what part of the county he lived in, beyond "east of here."

Deposition moment: Johnson, who previously served on the canvassing board, was asked if that board's primary responsibility was to certify an election.

"I don't have an opinion about that," he said. "I would have to research the law to see if the law states what the primary responsibility is."

And so it went. At one point he said he felt like he was being quizzed.

Well, yes. Depositions in which lawyers ask you questions about what you know can be like that.

His own lawyer was asked more than once not to testify for him. "Don't get upset," she said to another lawyer. "We're having fun here."

Fun? Well then, here's the punch line: Buddy Johnson is up for re-election in November, when voters get to decide whether or not they are amused.

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