Editor: I would like to respond to State Attorney Brad King's Feb. 14 letter to the editor.
Mr. King writes that he has recommended to Gov. Chiles that attorney Joe Mason be removed from the public office he holds as a member and chairman of the 5th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC). In a Jan. 27, letter from the Governor's General Counsel, J. Hardin Peterson Jr., I was informed in a response to a written request for similar action by the governor that I made Jan. 23, that Mr. Mason could not be removed from the JNC because of the specific terms of the very plea bargain Mr. King's letter attempts to defend.
Mr. Peterson stated that while Mr. Mason is an officer of the state subject to suspension, ".
. under the plea bargain, Mr. Mason has not committed a felony, and even though the conduct complained of is a misdemeanor, it would not constitute malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duties, incompetence or permanent inability to perform his official duties as a member of the JNC."
The general counsel goes on to say, "It does not appear that the governor has the constitutional authority to remove Mr. Mason since the crime was a misdemeanor and not a felony .
The irony that the action of Mr. King's own staff, who willingly agreed to and approved the terms of the plea bargain with Mr. Mason, will enable Mr. Mason to remain on the JNC is tragic and truly represents a gross miscarriage of justice.
Mr. King's assertion that the public and justice have been served, and that no preferential treatment has been accorded Mr. Mason is, I believe, simply not in keeping with the results the plea bargain has yielded to Mr. Mason.
The supervisor of elections verified to me as fact that Mr. Mason has voted in the December 1990 Brooksville election as well as the Dec. 3, 1991, election in which Mr. Mason has judicially admitted to being illegally registered to vote and illegally voting in a city precinct while a resident of the county. The plea bargain makes no mention of this fact.
The plea bargain overlooks a pattern of illegal conduct at the polls by Mr. Mason that Mr. King fully acknowledges in his letter to the editor. King's own investigation showed Mason, ".
. more than reasonably, knew, or should have known his conduct was illegal," according to King in a Jan. 28, 1992, letter to General Counsel Peterson.
Additional irony surrounding the plea bargain is to be found in that same Jan. 28 letter to the governor's counsel in which King asks the governor to review Mr. Mason's qualifications to serve on the JNC. King writes in concluding his letter: "As the integrity of the election code is fundamental to our system of government and is certainly not merely incidental to his (Mason's) responsibilities as a Nominating Commission member, I find his behavior unacceptable in relation to his continued maintenance of that office."
I can't argue with that statement. However, I cannot reconcile the force of that statement with the contents of the plea bargain King's office agreed to which had the effect of reducing felonious conduct, illegally casting a ballot, to a simple admission that Mr. Mason didn't tell the elections office his new address.
Registering and voting illegally is a felony under Florida law. In the 5th Judicial Circuit if you violate this law one time and you are a public employee, you lose your job and career as did Sheri Davis in 1990. Davis, a police dispatcher for the city of Wildwood in Sumter County, lost her job and Florida Law Enforcement officer certification after voting illegally in the city election while not a city resident.
If you are an attorney and hold public office in the 5th Circuit and you register and vote illegally, you keep your privilege to practice law, which is awarded to you by the Florida Supreme Court. The public office you hold is still yours to keep. Yes, you still serve as the Florida Bar's appointee on the JNC in which you select from your peers those persons from whom the governor must choose when filling seats on the 5th Circuit bench.
If this, and having judicial nominees selected by those who vote illegally, sounds like a page out of George Orwell's 1984, it's not; it is what is passing for justice right here in Hernando County, Florida.
The preferential treatment given Mr. Mason in this prosecution has resulted in only confirming the public perception that the justice system has dual standards. One standard for prosecuting the working class to the fullest extent of the law, and another standard that has prosecutors endeavoring to reach agreement with the rich on what penalty is acceptable to them.
The "punishment" required of Joe Mason by Brad King's plea bargain has done more to diminish the state attorney's office than to exact a penalty upon a criminal. Perhaps through bringing new charges for illegal voting in the 1990 Brooksville election, Mr. King can restore public confidence in the 5th Circuit's criminal justice system. The clock on the statute of limitations is still running, and so is my optimism that justice will be served.
Editor: Two trials were brought to completion in the last couple of weeks at our courthouse in Brooksville. One was an extremely difficult arson case handled by State Attorney Don Scaglione. Arson can be very difficult to prove and having to go outside of Hernando County for forensic help added to the difficulty. But, due to Mr. Scaglione, it was brought to a successful conclusion and a conviction on all counts was brought in by the jury.
A very sensitive sex abuse trial was skillfully handled by State Attorney Patricia McCarthy and conviction was obtained.
The reason we take time to write is that so often we take for granted the job the courts do, and I'm sure that once in awhile these prosecutors need just a little ego boost. The conditions that they face in court every day is extremely difficult, and we say thanks for the added effort.
Ed and Joyce Thompson
should be elected
Editor: Elected school chief is best for taxpayers and county.
A recent letter to the editor stated an appointed school superintendent is accountable to the Board of Education _ yes to five people and no longer to the 60,000 voters! His or her loyalty and dedication would be to the appointing board _ this could put cronyism into the process.
How about the superintendent's salary? With an appointed superintendent, the board sets the salary schedule. It could be $55,000 or $155,000, who knows. With our present elected process, the Legislature determines the salary; this would be based on population numbers. It's a good control to prevent salary inflation we cannot afford.
I fear with the appointed system someone aspiring to become a superintendent of schools need only to be generous with campaign funds to influence or perhaps sway the board's selection. Don't think this could not happen. Look how five U.S. senators (Keating Five) were influenced by money. Allowing the board this much power is not in the best interests of taxpayers.
I also have reservations about the skill of the present board to make a good selection inasmuch as some members have only limited experience. This comment is not directed at those members on our board that have doctorates and are well-versed in the field of education.
We now have someone with a doctorate at the helm of our educational system. He is well-qualified and even with all the agitation, he is doing a great job. As one of the few taxpayers who has attended budget hearings, I also believe the administrative staff and our school teachers are doing a good job for the students in our system.
I feel more comfortable letting the collective wisdom of our 60,000 Hernando County voters exercise their constitutional rights and elect our superintendent as we have for many years. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Leave well enough alone.
I urge all Hernando County voters to vote No on the ballot question, "Shall the superintendent of schools be changed from an elected position to an appointed position."
Let's show those newcomers on our Board of Education that you and I, the 60,000 voters of Hernando County, will determine how the ballgame is played.
Folke A. Erickson