Former Tampa City Council candidate subpoenaed over social media posts

Attorneys for a local business consultant have asked John Godwin to turn over social media accounts in the case.
John Godwin, pictured in center, ran unsuccessfully for Tampa City Council in 2019, losing to Charlie Miranda, left.  Joe Robinson, right, was also a candidate in that race.
John Godwin, pictured in center, ran unsuccessfully for Tampa City Council in 2019, losing to Charlie Miranda, left. Joe Robinson, right, was also a candidate in that race.
Published June 20, 2022|Updated June 21, 2022

TAMPA — A former candidate for Tampa City Council has been subpoenaed by a local business consultant seeking to uncover the identity behind a Facebook account that has been critical of him and Tampa politicians.

In May, Tampa attorney Ethan Loeb subpoenaed John Godwin, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2019, and his wife Catherine Godwin, for all communication and documentation related to the Facebook account of a “James Reed,” an associated Twitter account and a Gmail account.

On Monday, Godwin declined to comment, saying he wanted to coordinate with his attorney before speaking publicly.

The “James Reed” accounts have been critical of business consultant Steve Michelini, who is seeking to uncover the identity of the creator, arguing the posts have been defamatory. They have also been critical of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and some City Council members.

Loeb’s firm has made several public record requests attempting to tie the account to council member Bill Carlson. When asked why he had done so, Loeb replied: “I don’t have to tell you why.”

But he noted that Carlson has never been named in the legal action.

On Monday, Carlson told the Tampa Bay Times that he is owed an apology.

“The plaintiff’s attorney has made several public records requests over the last six months. The facts show that all of these requests have proven I am in no way connected to any of this,” Carlson said.

Loeb disagreed.

“I don’t think it proves anything,” Loeb said. He said the online activity originated in the Godwin’s residence and could be the work of Godwin, his wife or someone else — or some combination of the three.

Carlson said Loeb’s firm requested all communication between him and the Godwins, and he complied. He said his only connection to Godwin is that he is an official with Carlson’s neighborhood association: Bayshore Beautiful.

“This baseless harassment has cost me hundreds of hours that could have been better spent serving constituents. It has also cost the city taxpayers thousands of dollars in time and money,” Carlson wrote in a statement.

Loeb filed a legal action called a pure bill of discovery in early February seeking to uncover the author of the social media accounts.

This is the third legal action by Loeb against Tampa City Council members in the past year.

Loeb represented Michelini in a lawsuit that accused John Dingfelder of violating state public records laws. Dingfelder resigned in March, saying he was targeted for his opposition to development in South Tampa.

Loeb is also representing a former aide of council member Orlando Gudes, who, along with her daughter, is accusing Gudes of a pattern of inappropriate and emotionally distressing behavior.

The Godwins’ attorney asked Hillsborough Circuit Judge Cheryl K. Thomas on June 7 for a 20-day extension. The subpoenas were issued in late May.

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Godwin lost to Charlie Miranda in the citywide District 2 seat election. He finished second in a three-way race, which Miranda won without a runoff with 57 percent of the vote.

At the time, Godwin was 31 and a national security and technical innovation consultant. He declined to answer biographical questions Monday until he could speak with his attorney.

Carlson has repeatedly said in recent months that he, along with Dingfelder and Gudes, are being targeted by Mayor Castor’s administration. Castor’s spokesperson Adam Smith has denied those allegations.

“I expect a robust apology and for these attacks to end,” Carlson said.

Responded Loeb: “I would never apologize to Bill Carlson. Why?”