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Florida’s Attorney General fought to lock this lawyer up for representing his client

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi

Florida’s Attorney General fought to lock this lawyer up for representing his client


A Jacksonville man previously accused by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi of being the mastermind behind a $300 million racketeering and money laundering scheme has his law license back and all criminal charges dismissed after a four year battle with prosecutors. Bondi’s office announced it would dismiss all charges against former Jacksonville Bar Association president Kelly Mathis after the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach threw out Mathis’ convictions and the Florida Supreme Court declined to overturn that decision.

Mathis was arrested in 2013 and accused of being at the center an illegal gambling operation that took place at internet cafes. The Office of Statewide Prosecution, which is under Bondi, prosecuted the case.

As the lawyer for the internet cafes, Mathis argued that his clients were offering “sweepstakes,” which is allowed under Florida law, and not gambling, which is illegal. Prosecutors claimed that Mathis knew what was occurring was illegal, and his arguments to the contrary were just part of the criminal conspiracy he was involved in.

Police arrested 57 people in the case. Mathis was the only one to go on trial. The others had their cases dismissed or pleaded guilty in plea deals that involved no prison time.

At trial, Mathis sought to introduce evidence showing that before advising his client, Allied Veterans, that the internet cafes were legal, he had conducted extensive research and held meetings with government officials about the issue. Such evidence would have purportedly shown that he lacked the requisite mens rea — knowledge or intent — that his conduct was unlawful. He also tried to introduce evidence that various localities in question had ordinances that specifically permitted the operation of internet cafes.

State prosecutors filed multiple motions in a successful effort to prevent Mathis from presenting this evidence.

Mathis was subsequently convicted of one count of racketeering, 51 counts of conducting an illegal lottery and 51 counts of possessing an illegal slot machine. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester sentenced Mathis to six years in prison but allowed him to remain out on bail while his conviction and sentence were appealed.

Mathis received the support of many lawyers who worried that Bondi’s office’s prosecution of Mathis’ conduct constituted a legal threat to any attorney who sought to provide good faith legal advice to a client.

As the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) wrote in its amicus brief filed in support of Mathis: “The respondent, an attorney, after having been approached by a client with a particular legal concern researched the question presented, consulted with colleagues — including law enforcement officers and public officials — and ultimately rendered advice to his client … He performed his duty as an attorney as countless others do on a daily basis in accordance with the tenets of the profession and was compensated. Where Mr. Mathis’s case deviates from this norm was in his subsequent prosecution for violating the RICO statute, as well as gambling offenses, based on the advice he provided to his client.”

“It seemed to most attorneys pretty outlandish that he could be criminally prosecuted,” said Tad Delegal, the current president of the Jacksonville Bar Association in an interview with the Florida Times-Union. “That was very troubling to me. It was troubling because you are alleging that there was this vast conspiracy to do very illegal things. And yet there were no consequences for the people who allegedly engaged the illegality, or no substantial consequences.”

The Fifth District Court of Appeal agreed, finding that the trial court was wrong when it prevented Mathis from arguing his own “good faith” with respect to the legal advice he offered. Bondi’s office appealed that ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, although it declined to reinstate the conviction.

Bondi’s office ultimately decided not to retry Mathis.

Perhaps further demonstrating its view of the underlying criminal prosecution, the Florida Supreme Court recently ordered that Mathis’ law license, which had been revoked after the criminal charges were first brought, be retroactively reinstated — meaning that technically Mathis never lost his license at all.

“It has been a long, long road and that was the absolute last piece of the puzzle to complete recovery,” Mathis said to the Florida Times-Union. “I’ve been vindicated. I’ve been re-instated. I think it’s huge that the Florida Bar and Florida Supreme Court agreed I should be reinstated retroactively to four years ago, recognizing that this was just wrong from the beginning.”

But Mathis, who worked as a paralegal while his case was pending, has lost a lot. His law practice had to shut down and all the people who worked for him lost their jobs. His marriage failed and his faith in the American system of justice was damaged.

Days after his conviction was thrown out in October 2016 Mathis acknowledged he would never be the same.

“It’s been devastating in every way,” Mathis said. “I’ve done what I can to make the best of it.”

Court rules Miami prosecutor was wrong to threaten police critic

Court rules Miami prosecutor was wrong to threaten police critic


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle had “no basis in the law” when she threatened to prosecute a man for recording a conversation he had with the Chief of the Homestead Police Department. As a result, James Eric McDonough’s federal lawsuit against Fernandez-Rundle can proceed.

According to the Miami New Times, a police officer allegedly tried to run him off the road, McDonough became an active critic of the Homestead police. McDough regularly filmed the police, criticized them at city meetings, and argued that they should be required to wear body cameras. He also filed multiple harassment complaints against the department. McDonough, who has a doctorate in organic thermochemistry, is also reporter for Photography is Not a Crime, a First Amendment advocacy news site that often films confrontations its members have with police and prosecutors — including of McDonough himself being arrested during a city council meeting.

Miami State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle

In 2014, McDonough met with Homestead Police Chief Al Rolle and Internal Affairs Detective Antonio Acquino to discuss some of his complaints. During the meeting McDonough handed them some of his files. McDonough then took our his cell phone and recorded their conversation. He later posted portions of the conversation to YouTube.

Rolle later claimed he didn’t know the conversation was being recorded.

State’s Attorney Fernandez-Rundle subsequently sent McDonough a letter saying that what he did during the meeting with Rolle was a felony, and threatened to prosecute McDonough if he ever did it again. In her letter, Fernandez-Rundle cited a Florida statute that prohibits one party, without the consent of the other party to a conversation, to “intercept” communications “uttered by a person exhibiting an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception.”

McDonough responded by suing Fernandez-Rundle in federal court, claiming that the statute in question did not apply to him and that the threat of prosecution violated his First Amendment right to free speech. With respect to the statute, McDonough claimed it didn’t apply because the meeting was a public forum and the police themselves recorded the conversation.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga originally ruled in favor of Fernandez-Rundle and said that the State’s Attorney could have McDonough arrested if he did something similar. But the federal circuit court overturned that decision in a 2–1 opinion.

As the court explained:

“At no point did Chief Rolle, or for that matter, any participant in the meeting exhibit any expectation of privacy. Although that easily could have been done, Chief Rolle set no ground rules for the meeting he elected to call. At no point did any one from the HPD suggest that the meeting was confidential or ‘off the record.’ Nor was there advance notice or published or displayed rules that established confidentiality and certainly none that prohibited note taking or recordings. It is therefore clear to us that because Chief Rolle failed to ‘exhibit’ the expectation of privacy that is required by the statute, the government is not entitled to invoke it and McDonough did not violate it.”

Because McDonough did not violate the statute that Fernandez-Rundle claimed he had violated, the court concluded, “the government’s threatened prosecution has no basis in the law.”

The matter was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

In his dissent, Chief Judge Ed Carnes took issue with the majority’s decision not to rule on whether McDonough’s First Amendment rights had, in fact, been violated, and said the majority should have decided that issue one way or another.

The ruling is another setback for Fernandez-Rundle, who critics accuse of refusing to hold law enforcement accountable for wrongdoing. Recently the local Democratic Party called for her to resign after she refused to prosecute four corrections officers who were on duty when inmate Darren Rainey died. Rainey, 50, smeared feces on himself at the Dade Correctional Institute in June 2012, and guards responded by locking him in the shower. Before he died, other inmates said he was screaming for mercy because the water was boiling hot.

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Court rules Miami prosecutor was wrong to threaten police critic

Court rules Miami prosecutor was wrong to threaten police critic


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle had “no basis in the law” when she threatened to prosecute a man for recording a conversation he had with the Chief of the Homestead Police Department. As a result, James Eric McDonough’s federal lawsuit against Fernandez-Rundle can proceed.

Miami State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle

According to the Miami New Times, a police officer allegedly tried to run him off the road, McDonough became an active critic of the Homestead police. McDough regularly filmed the police, criticized them at city meetings, and argued that they should be required to wear body cameras. He also filed multiple harassment complaints against the department. McDonough, who has a doctorate in organic thermochemistry, is also reporter for Photography is Not a Crime, a First Amendment advocacy news site that often films confrontations its members have with police and prosecutors — including of McDonough himself being arrested during a city council meeting.

In 2014, McDonough met with Homestead Police Chief Al Rolle and Internal Affairs Detective Antonio Acquino to discuss some of his complaints. During the meeting McDonough handed them some of his files. McDonough then took our his cell phone and recorded their conversation. He later posted portions of the conversation to YouTube.

Rolle later claimed he didn’t know the conversation was being recorded.

State’s Attorney Fernandez-Rundle subsequently sent McDonough a letter saying that what he did during the meeting with Rolle was a felony, and threatened to prosecute McDonough if he ever did it again. In her letter, Fernandez-Rundle cited a Florida statute that prohibits one party, without the consent of the other party to a conversation, to “intercept” communications “uttered by a person exhibiting an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception.”

McDonough responded by suing Fernandez-Rundle in federal court, claiming that the statute in question did not apply to him and that the threat of prosecution violated his First Amendment right to free speech. With respect to the statute, McDonough claimed it didn’t apply because the meeting was a public forum and the police themselves recorded the conversation.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga originally ruled in favor of Fernandez-Rundle and said that the State’s Attorney could have McDonough arrested if he did something similar. But the federal circuit court overturned that decision in a 2–1 opinion.

As the court explained:

“At no point did Chief Rolle, or for that matter, any participant in the meeting exhibit any expectation of privacy. Although that easily could have been done, Chief Rolle set no ground rules for the meeting he elected to call. At no point did any one from the HPD suggest that the meeting was confidential or ‘off the record.’ Nor was there advance notice or published or displayed rules that established confidentiality and certainly none that prohibited note taking or recordings. It is therefore clear to us that because Chief Rolle failed to ‘exhibit’ the expectation of privacy that is required by the statute, the government is not entitled to invoke it and McDonough did not violate it.”

Because McDonough did not violate the statute that Fernandez-Rundle claimed he had violated, the court concluded, “the government’s threatened prosecution has no basis in the law.”

The matter was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

In his dissent, Chief Judge Ed Carnes took issue with the majority’s decision not to rule on whether McDonough’s First Amendment rights had, in fact, been violated, and said the majority should have decided that issue one way or another.

The ruling is another setback for Fernandez-Rundle, who critics accuse of refusing to hold law enforcement accountable for wrongdoing. Recently the local Democratic Party called for her to resign after she refused to prosecute four corrections officers who were on duty when inmate Darren Rainey died. Rainey, 50, smeared feces on himself at the Dade Correctional Institute in June 2012, and guards responded by locking him in the shower. Before he died, other inmates said he was screaming for mercy because the water was boiling hot.

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