The Fifth District Court of Appeals in Daytona Beach held that Senator Gary Siplin did not abuse his power by using his status as senator in an attempt to go around a barricade to access a parking space, reversing the Florida Commission on Ethics earlier decision. This four-year legal battle is reported to have racked up a $109,000 legal bill.
The Florida Commission erred in finding an abuse of power because they convicted Siplin of “corrupt” action, which there was allegedly no evidence of here. However, the judges made clear that their opinion did not approve of Siplin’s conduct, but merely found it lacked the “corrupt” element required under the statue.
The Senate has a policy of paying for legal expenses when a member is cleared of wrong-doing. However, this policy is rarely utilized because this does not happen often. It is reported that rarely is anybody charged, let alone exonerated.
On July 1, the Florida Senate reimbursed Siplin’s criminal defense costs of $59,340.91. Additionally, another $50,237.25 was paid to cover the ethics portion of the legal bills in this case. Bottom line, taxpayer dollars covered the cost of Siplin’s trial. Yes, the Senate has a policy to cover legal expenses when an elected official is cleared of wrongdoing, but did they just pay the bills without reviewing them? Had the Senate reviewed the legal bills, some charges could have been eliminated or reduced, thus saving taxpayer dollars. This is all just speculation on our part, but it is worth mentioning when in the end, it’s the taxpayers who have to pay.