ORLANDO – Doug Guetzloe smiles when he notes that people think of him today as the guy who just went to jail.
“I had people say to me in Publix last night, ‘Hey, I thought you were in jail,’ “ Guetzloe said.
In fact, Guetzloe never did go to prison, despite initial media reports indicating otherwise, and he doesn’t expect to, either.
“It’s because the media doesn’t follow up on what happens,” he said.
These days, Guetzloe wears a lot of hats: conservative political activist, driving force behind the Ax the Tax grassroots movement, radio commentator and advisor to the Tea Party of Florida. But he doesn’t expect prison inmate to be among his monikers.
“This is a free speech issue more than anything else,” Guetzloe said. “This is a huge free speech issue, and free speech is obviously something I’m for.”
On Oct. 22, Orange Circuit Judge Jeffery Arnold sentenced Guetzloe to 60 days in jail for a 2006 misdemeanor case, requiring Guetzloe to take part in the Orange County Jail’s work release program. Guetzloe was adjudicated guilty and fined $1,000.
The case dates back to 2006, when Guetzloe sent out a mailer during the Winter Park mayoral election that included a police report about former candidate David Strong. The report included information about Strong’s 1999 incident when he was accused of smearing dog feces on a neighbor’s face during a dispute. The flier wasn’t identified as a paid electioneering communication.
“I published a police report,” Guetzloe said. “It said, ‘Do you want him to be your mayor?’ The state law that was later stricken by the courts required you to say this is a paid political advertisement. My particular offense was not having a disclaimer on a political mailer I sent out.”
In November 2006, Guetzloe pleaded no contest to 14 misdemeanor counts under state election law, and Judge Arnold sentenced him to 60 days in jail under the work release program, handing down an $8,500 fine, and giving him three years of probation – “all over a political disclaimer,” Guetzloe said. “If someone had filed a complaint against me in those three years, that would have been a violation of my probation. People would have been lining up. Rapists don’t get sentences this tough.”
Guetzloe appealed the judge’s ruling to the 8th District Court of Appeals, which tossed out 13 of the 14 charges.
“They struck the sentence for being ridiculous, and sent it back to the judge for sentencing on the single misdemeanor charge,” Guetzloe said.
The law was ultimately struck down by the 1st Federal District Court of Florida as being unconstitutional.
“We were thinking this was over,” Guetzloe said. But it wasn’t, and Guetzloe has accused the office of Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar of unfairly targeting him for prosecution.
“We said, ‘You are permanently enjoined from enforcing this law,’ ” Guetzloe said. “They said they don’t care. At this point the law no longer exists. How can you have a sentence on a law that no longer exists? We’ve asked to withdraw the no-contest plea, but the judge said no. That’s why we went to the Supreme Court.”
Guetzloe’s case was sent back to Judge Arnold for sentencing, and this time the judge did not include the fine or probation, just the 60 days on work release. Guetzloe appealed again, and while he was supposed to report to jail on Nov. 3, the Florida Supreme Court intervened.
On Oct. 28, the Supreme Court found “a preliminary basis for relief” for a petition by Guetzloe’s legal team, which argued that it was unconstitutional for a circuit judge like Arnold to hear a county court case. The Supreme Court commanded the state to show cause why Guetzloe’s petition shouldn’t be granted.
“The Florida Supreme Court issued a stay, and the Supreme Court further ordered that Lawson show cause why my writ should not be enforced,” Guetzloe said. “They want Lawson to show cause why he’s gone off the deep end.”
Guetzloe ultimately expects to win the case.
“I think the Supreme Court is going to issue the writ of prohibition which will be a real kick to the judge and say ‘Everything you did from Day One is incorrect.’ We asked the judge to recuse himself and he said no.”
In the meantime, Guetzloe said he has two other hopes. One is that the news media follow up on his appeals, and not let the story end at his sentencing date.
“All the media have been like, ‘Oh Doug is going to jail,’ and that’s it,” he said.
Likewise, Guetzloe said he hopes people come to understand the important free speech issue involved here: that truly free speech should include anonymous free speech.
“You shouldn’t have to say who sends it out because people could base their opinion on who is sending it rather than the content,” Guetzloe said. “I’m the only person in the United States who has been charged with this.”
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