ORLANDO — Seven months after he was given 60 days in jail for a misdemeanor campaign violation charge, political consultant and radio talk show host Doug Guetzloe has filed a complaint against the judge who imposed that sentence, and is asking the state to have the judge removed from the bench.
In a lengthy complaint filed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, Guetzloe and his attorney, Fred O’Neal, have asked the JQC to investigate the decisions, behavior and rulings of Judge C. Jeffrey Arnold of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida covering Orange and Osceola counties, and how he handled the case against Guetzloe that dates back to 2006.
In his complaint, Guetzloe charges that the judge displayed malice and bias toward him, altered court records in his case and had improper “ex-parte communication” with O’Neal while Guetzloe was in jail.
In his complaint, Guetzloe also alleges that the judge may have sentenced him to jail time for a misdemeanor charge because the political consultant declined to take him on as a client through his consulting business.
“Arnold was not an impartial judge in my case,” the complaint states. “Upon Arnold’s appointment to the county bench, Arnold approached me about running his campaign, should he have one.”
Guetzloe is a long-time Republican consultant, while Arnold was appointed to the bench by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat.
“I politely declined to agree to assist in his campaign,” the complaint notes. “Arnold took issue with that and maintained that grudge until this case came before him.”
As a result of how the judge handled this case, Guetzloe wrote in the complaint, “Arnold has shown extreme bias in the administration of his office and should be removed from the bench for the various unethical breaches.”
Reached on Tuesday, Guetzloe declined to comment on the complaint. Last June, shortly after his release from the Orange County jail, Guetzloe said in an interview with Freeline Media that he would be filing not only an appeal of his conviction, but a complaint against the judge who gave him jail time for a misdemeanor charge of not putting his name on a political flyer.
“I’m actually the only person in America who has been criminally charged with that, and the only person who has ever gone to jail,” Guetzloe said on June 27. “I am preparing a fairly voluminous complaint against Judge Arnold. Here is a judge who deliberately and intentionally violates the law. As far as I’m concerned, he has to go.”
The jail sentence dates back to 2006, when Guetzloe was charged with a first degree misdemeanor for sending out a political mailer during a Winter Park mayoral election. Guetzloe failed to include the term ‘paid electioneering communication’ on the ad as required by Florida law, or put his name on it as the person who paid for the ad.
In November 2006, Guetzloe pleaded no contest to the charges, and Judge Arnold sentenced him to 60 days in jail. Guetzloe appealed, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled that he could be prosecuted for his failure to include ‘paid electioneering communication’ on the mail out.
Judge Arnold ordered Guetzloe to report to the Orange County jail by noon on May 11, and imposed a $1,000 fine on the political consultant, and $50 in court costs. Guetzloe is a well known political consultant and founder of the Ax the Tax anti-tax grass roots organization. He’s also a consultant to the Florida Tea Party and the host of The Guetzloe Report, the daily radio program on The Phoenix Network in downtown Orlando.
Guetzloe had been appealing this case for years, and even convinced a federal court to toss out the Florida statute as a violation of his free speech rights. Nevertheless, Arnold, a circuit judge for Orange/Osceola counties, met with O’Neal on the morning of May 11 and announced he was imposing the 60 day jail term.
“Fred came to my house and he said, ‘You have two hours to report to 33rd Street for your sentence or the judge will consider imposing a one year jail sentence,’ “ Guetzloe said on June 27.
In his complaint with the JQC, Guetzloe wrote that while he was in the county jail, the judge turned down three furlough requests that O’Neal filed on behalf of Guetzloe, the first being that he be allowed to leave the jail to attend his son’s baccalaureate program at the family’s church in anticipation of his high school graduation.
“Arnold denied the motion, even refused to hear it,” Guetzloe wrote in the complaint.
He also refused to hear a motion that Guetzloe be allowed to attend his son’s actual graduation ceremony, and denied a motion for Guetzloe to move from jail to a work release program, which Guetzloe said he was qualified for.
This motion was denied “even though my medical condition had deteriorated dramatically in jail,” the complaint charges.
He also alleges that the judge improperly met in private with O’Neal to discuss the case when an attorney for Orange County wasn’t present, as required by law.
“Following these motions, on Friday, June 10, 2011, Arnold requested that O’Neal visit him in his office for a private meeting,” the complaint notes. “Arnold at this time told O’Neal that any further furlough requests would be received very negatively by Arnold and held against O’Neal and me if there were any further motions in the file. This meeting was ex-parte and no one else was present when Arnold made the threat, although O’Neal promptly reported it to me and my wife.”
According to the American Bar Association’s rules of professional conduct, ex parte contact occurs when an attorney communicates with another party outside the presence of that party’s attorney — or, in this case, without an attorney representing the other side. Guetzloe has charged that it was unethical for the judge to have made these comments to O’Neal without the county prosecutor’s office having someone present at the time.
Guetzloe also charged that the judge displayed malice and bias against him in his handling of the case.
“While incarcerated, I missed three funerals of close friends and associates,” the complaint notes.
The complaint also alleges that the judge altered court records “to reflect decisions and statements that were not true or accurate,” including indicating that Guetzloe’s criminal attorney, William J. Scheaffer, was present at a critical hearing when he wasn’t.
Judge Arnold could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Brooke Kennerly, executive director of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, told Freeline Media that her office does not comment on specific complaints filed with their office in Tallahassee.
“The complaints with the commission are confidential under the rules of the Florida Constitution,” she said. “There is never any kind of information that’s disseminated until the commission files what is called formal charges against the judge, and then that information becomes public record and is available on the Internet. Prior to that, what the commission does with the complaint is review it to see if it’s an ethical complaint, or a legal or procedural complaint.”
In some instances, she said, defendants file complaints because they disagree with the judge’s ruling.
“They don’t like the decision the judge makes, they don’t like it, they think it’s wrong,” she said, adding that these complaints are what appeals courts are for, not the JQC.
Her office, she said, investigates whether a judge acted unethically or illegally in court. If they do find some merit to a complaint, “The commission would investigate, maybe hire an investigator, and call the judge in to discuss or refute the allegations,” she said.
Asked how long the 15-member commission takes to decide each case, Kennerly said no two complaints are similar, so each one varies.
“It just depends on the complexity of it,” she said. “The commission meets about every six weeks and that‘s how they review these complaints. If it needs further investigation, you’ve got another six weeks — and so forth.”
Of the 15 members of the JQC, two are district court of appeal judges, two are circuit court judges, two are county court judges, four are registered voters who also are lawyers, and the final five are non-lawyers chosen by the governor.
According to the commission’s web site, “The JQC is divided into two panels, an ‘investigative panel’ that acts much like a prosecutor, and a ‘hearing panel’ that acts much like a panel of judges reviewing the case. Judges accused of misconduct often are represented by a private attorney.”
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