ORLANDO – Looking back, political consultant Doug Guetzloe says he knows what the absolute worst part of his recent jail sentence was: “the complete loss of freedom,” he said.
“You are dependent on someone else to tell you what to eat,” he said. “You are dependent on someone else to give you medicine. You are only given two hours per day out in a 24 hour period. The average guy who knocked over the 7-11 doesn’t care about the loss of freedom. But the loss of individual freedom for someone like myself was devastating.”
With his 60-day jail sentence now over – Guetzloe was released from the Orange County Jail last week, a little less than three weeks early — Guetzloe said he lost 17 pounds while in jail and came out of there detesting the food – “The baloney sandwich is the keystone to the corrections diet, and the baloney is an unknown generic quality,” he said – but also left with a great deal of respect for corrections officers and for Orange County’s work release center, which he briefly was transferred to. But he still feels a sense of outrage that the judge presiding over his misdemeanor case, Jeffrey Arnold, would sentence him to jail for failing to post on a flyer he mailed out that it was a paid political advertisement.
“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. He plans to appeal his sentence, even though it’s already been served and completed, because it believes it was an injustice.
“That case is over, except for our appeal,” he said. “I’m appealing the conviction because the sentence should never have been imposed.”
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.
“I am preparing a fairly voluminous complaint against Judge Arnold,” Guetzloe said. “Here is a judge who deliberately and intentionally violates the law. As far as I’m concerned, he has to go.”
Guetzloe said he’s also relieved that while his case is on appeal, there’s no risk that he could end up back in Orange County Jail.
“It’s somewhat of a relief to have it over,” he said of the jail sentence. “I can appeal this without any fear of going to jail.”
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 radio broadcast on The Phoenix Network in downtown Orlando.
Guetzloe said he’d 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. So it came as a shock to him when Arnold, a circuit judge for Orange/Osceola counties, met with Guetzloe’s attorney, Fred O’Neal, on the morning of May 11 and announced he was imposing the 60 day jail term.
Guetzloe said the Florida Supreme Court had issued a stay on Arnold’s sentence while the case was under appeal.
“On November 28, the Florida Supreme Court issued an injunction that remains in effect today,” Guetzloe said, adding that he had expected the May 11 status conference to be routine – until O’Neal showed up at his home with the news.
“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. “I said, ‘How can he do that with a stay,’ and Fred said, ‘He can’t – but he did.’ “
Guetzloe said he was amazed.
“There’s what’s moral and what’s right – and what’s the law,” he said. “The law isn’t supposed to be horse shoes. It’s not supposed to be ‘close.’ I had no opportunity to make arrangements for anything.”
He did report to the jail at 11:50 that morning, and was immediately placed into protective custody because of his prominence in the community, and for his own protection.
“One of the booking guys said ‘You are PC,’ and I said, ‘I am not,’ “ Guetzloe recalled with a laugh. “He said, ‘Yes you are.’ I thought he meant politically correct.”
It was one of the few humorous moments he would find in the jail, which he described as being monotonous, tedious and frustrating. He spent hours in a cell with no access to a computer or the Internet, although he could make phone calls and watch television in the medical ward where he was placed.
“I was in a situation where I was isolated from the general (jail) population,” he said. “I was in 1 Bravo, the medical ward, a men only unit with 22 cell areas. We don’t have bars. I was never ‘behind bars.’ The new jail is really almost a state-of-the-art facility.”
It was also, he recalled, quite chilly, since the medical ward was kept at a nippy 60 degrees to fight off infections.
Guetzloe said he left the jail with a new sense of appreciation for the corrections officers who supervised him.
“I was very impressed with the corrections officers,” Guetzloe said. “The corrections officers were very respectful and professional – and unanimous in their shock in terms of my being there. The jail is overcrowded. They do have violent prisoners in there. Every one of the corrections officers, to a person, was almost indignant that I was there. They told me it was a tremendous waste of their time to be dealing with someone like me.”
Still, Guetzloe said he didn’t feel like he was singled out for any special treatment.
“The corrections officers treated everyone equally, with professional courtesy,” he said. “I saw no brutality. Quite frankly, some of the inmates are violent, and I saw inmates use swear words on the corrections officers, but there was no reciprocity.”
And while noting that “The average person looks with disdain on anyone who is incarcerated,” Guetzloe said the vast majority of people at the Orange County Jail were there for driving with a suspended license, probation violations, or they had just been arrested and hadn’t gotten a court date yet. Only a small percentage, he said, were serving jail time for something else.
“I have come to the conclusion that you should not be incarcerated unless you’ve actually committed a crime,” he said.
After six days, Guetzloe was transferred to the Orange County Work Release Center, where he was approved to return to his consulting business and to the Phoenix Network. But a few days later he was brought back to Orange County Jail after the U.S. Marshall’s Office filed federal tax charges against him.
Guetzloe faces two misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file tax returns, and will be arraigned on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in federal court in Orlando. Guetzloe said both the charges filed against him, and his being yanked back to the jail, felt like political retribution.
“I was immediately taken back to 33rd Street,” he said. “In knowing the rules now, someone triggered that return to 33rd Street. I should have been allolwed to remain on work release. However, someone didn’t want me back out. If you can get Doug Guetzloe off the air and out of City Hall when they are doing the final touches on the performing arts center …. Well, there you go. They really wanted to see me incarcerated.”
With his jail sentence now over, Guetzloe is back on the air at 11 a.m. daily for The Guetzloe Report, and said he has no intention of reigning in his outspoken political views.
Noting that he got nearly three weeks knocked off his sentence, Guetzloe said, “There actually was some good behavior involved – and I’ve never been accused of being on good behavior before.”
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