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SENATOR SHOULD BE DISCIPLINED, ETHICS PANEL SAYS

Sen. Gary Siplin bullied a deputy during a dispute over parking at a football game, officials say.

TALLAHASSEE - State Sen. Gary Siplin used his position to bully a sheriff's deputy during a dispute over parking at a football game in 2006 and should be disciplined by the full Senate, the state Ethics Commission recommended Friday.

The panel voted 5-0 to send a report to the Senate suggesting that the Orlando Democrat be censured, publicly reprimanded and ordered to get continuing education about the state's ethics code for public officials.

"He abused his position as a senator," the commission's advocate, James Peterson, told the panel. "He pushed his way through a barricade that was closed to protect the public. He abused his position to bully police officers, and that is wrong."

The commission accepted a recommended order from Administrative Law Judge R. Bruce McKibben, who heard testimony from the parties. The next step under state law would be to convene a Senate committee to decide what action, if any, to take.

Siplin's lawyer, Mark Herron, said he will encourage his client to appeal in court on grounds that the commission lacks the constitutional authority to submit such a recommendation to the Senate. He noted that the constitution says the Senate has the sole authority to judge the qualifications of its members.

"The Florida Supreme Court's interpreted that to mean the Commission on Ethics can't initiate proceedings in the Senate," Herron said.

However, Herron did not make that argument to the commission, saying it's a legal issue for the courts to decide. Instead, he denied that Siplin violated the ethics code because Siplin had no authority to hire, fire or discipline Orange County sheriff's deputies.

"He could not take away their job," Herron said. "That was the threat - 'I will have your job.'"

Siplin, though, has denied saying that to Orange County Sheriff's Deputy Marcus Robinson, who filed the ethics complaint.

Robinson told McKibben that Siplin made the threat after he stopped the lawmaker's car from entering the Citrus Bowl parking lot in Orlando through a street that was barricaded to protect pedestrians.

Robinson's superior was called to the scene and also told Siplin that he couldn't pass through the barricade. He eventually relented and let Siplin through but allowed Robinson to ticket him for refusing to obey traffic laws. Siplin initially appealed but eventually paid the ticket.

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