Today in textgate Part III: Sad things we learned from State Attorney Jeff Ashton's press conference this afternoon



In case you haven't been falling apart to (er, following) our ongoing coverage of textgate and the quietest slap on the wrist you've ever heard, you should know that there's a lot of HORRIBLE behavior going on behind your back (and sometimes in front of your face) at the county level, that State Attorney Jeff Ashton tried to sound tough by fining several commissioners and Mayor Teresa Jacobs a whopping $500 this morning, and that a huge vault of FDLE files was released earlier this afternoon. Go catch up and get back to us...

OK, ready? So, this afternoon, we were promised a joint presser featuring Ashton and a soft spoken FDLE investigator who went by the name of Danny Banks. Before all of this morning's hoopla, this presser – in our imagination – was to be Ashton's victory lap for issuing huge judgments leading to perp-walk square dances from some of our favorite girl-talkers and sandwich orderers who don't know how NOT to talk to lobbyists in order to do their jobs. Instead, it was sort of a media inquisition into why Ashton is such a big lug who is afraid to prosecute bigwigs. Without going into too much more detail than what you've likely already surmised, these are some of the more memorable revelations from this afternoon's blathering pool:

- Ashton wanted to make it clear that despite reported suggestions by the Orlando Sentinel, the failure of any of the commissioners to pay their $500 lobby allowance was NOT going to initiate a criminal investigation. THERE WILL BE NO MORE CRIMINALIZING OF YOUR ORANGE COUNTY OLIGARCHS.

- Even though we were promised a complete investigation, Ashton and the FDLE did not dig very deeply into the communications of lobbyists in order to see if perchance they were directing the county dais. If a Disney lobbyist tells you that she deleted all of her messages – ahem, Sharon Smoley, of girltalk fame – then you just believe her. I mean, hell, she agreed to be interviewed, right? Why would she lie?

- When Orange Republican Huckster/Chair Lew Oliver gets texts from big ol' Fred Brummer that "somebody needs to stop" Commissioner Ted Edwards, Ashton thinks that it's just boys being boys and making jokes about other boys who talk too much. In no way does it give the appearance that Oliver is directing the meeting, nossir.

- Ashton doesn't know exactly when all of the text messages were deleted. There isn't a real timeline. Which is weird, if you think about it, but we'll come back to this at the end.

- It was not Ashton's job to "investigate the broader issue" of how sick time got defeated, because, ha, even Lew Oliver would tell you that he was solely responsible for forcing the delays. Doesn't even matter that Oliver was bringing up campaign finance promises in some of his texts. Nope, that's none of Ashton's business.

- These things: "I think many public officials are behind the curve" on technology. "Part of the problem is that people tend to think of text messages more as a phone conversation than as an email." "Even [the state attorney's] office had no written policy on text messages." "It really is a problem of law catching up with technology." HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH. Old people are dumb. Most hilarious though was when Ashton defended the commissioners saying that "well, they're not attorneys!" Because Ted Edwards and (former commish) John Martinez in fact ARE attorneys.

- Tallahassee should change the law. Also, why would lobbyists do something the illegal way (texting) when it's so much easier to do it the legal way (making a phone call). Government is fucked up.

- Lew Oliver was not representing any lobby, because, well HE IS REPRESENTING EVERY REPUBLICAN LOBBY. To consider him a mere "citizen" is unmitigated foolishness.

- Apparently everyone got "really cooperative" when the spectre of FDLE was raised. Because they certainly haven't been cooperative with anybody else's records requests.

- It makes (no) perfect sense to take somebody like chief of staff Graciela Noriega Jacoby at her word when she says that she lost all her messages while transferring or updating her phone. And that happened at the same time as everyone else deleted their messages. There's is no reason NOT to believe Jacoby, says Ashton, because that would be like charging her when her file cabinet caught on fire. Seriously.

- Ashton thinks the $500 is sufficient for the commissioners to admit "we did something wrong and move on from that." SERIOUSLY.

- OK, and finally, THIS! Here's the Florida Public Records Statutes:

Florida Statute 119.07(1)(h)

(h)?Even if an assertion is made by the custodian of public records that a requested record is not a public record subject to public inspection or copying under this subsection, the requested record shall, nevertheless, not be disposed of for a period of 30 days after the date on which a written request to inspect or copy the record was served on or otherwise made to the custodian of public records by the person seeking access to the record. If a civil action is instituted within the 30-day period to enforce the provisions of this section with respect to the requested record, the custodian of public records may not dispose of the record except by order of a court of competent jurisdiction after notice to all affected parties.

Then, Florida Statute 119.10(1)(b)

Any public officer who...

(b)?Knowingly violates the provisions of s. 119.07(1) [I.E. INCLUDING THE PARAGRAPH ABOVE] is subject to suspension and removal or impeachment and, in addition, commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

When confronted by somebody in the audience with this statute, and asked why such punishment wouldn't apply in this case when a public records request was placed on Sept. 12 at 10 a.m., Ashton's answer was "I don't know." Then, "I don't know that I would have as broad an interpretation of the statute." OH, and then, "Everyone that deleted has been fined." SERIOUSLY. "I DON'T KNOW," SAYS ASHTON. Ugh. We're glad this day is over.

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