Florida Politicians, Lawyers Continue to Respond to Casey Anthony Decision
While Florida Bar gets complaint about Cheney Mason, Senate and House leaders start drafting 'Caylee's Law'
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State Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, sent a letter to Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, asking for workshop meetings in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Evers, a freshman in the Senate who represents all of Holmes and Washington counties and parts of Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties, serves as chairman of the committee.
“In the days following the verdict of the Casey Anthony trial, I have received numerous e-mails from concerned citizens that Florida law was not adequate to protect the safety and welfare of our children,” writes Evers. “While I respect the judicial process and the burden of proof that exists in such cases, I join my fellow Floridians in voicing concern about any inconsistencies or inadequacies in the law that could potentially lead to future issues such as this.
"One of the greatest privileges afforded to us as Americans is the presumption of innocence and a trial by a jury of our peers, and while I would never have wanted to be in the shoes of those Pinellas County jurors, I do feel it is imperative that we explore this issue further and, as a body, discuss any necessary changes to Florida law.
“I respectfully ask that you allow our committee to dedicate its first fall meeting to discuss any potential changes that can and should be made to our criminal and civil laws that protect our most vulnerable citizens,” continued Evers. “At your direction, I am requesting to hold subsequent workshops on the issue, as necessary, to ensure the Senate takes a thoughtful and measured approach, while avoiding potential unintended consequences.”
Evers was not the only legislator responding to the case and the decision.
On Wednesday, a day after the decision was announced in the case, Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, announced that he will back “Caylee’s Law,” making it a felony for a parent or legal guardian who fails to notify the authorities of a missing child in a timely fashion. A former assistant attorney general and insurance commissioner of Iowa who served on the Boca Raton City Council and as vice mayor of that city, Hager, a freshman who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, served on the Judiciary Committee during the 2011 session.
“What we witnessed in the case of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony was truly tragic,” said Hager. “Placing a law on the books requiring parents and guardians to report missing children who are in significant danger in a timely manner will ensure that parents are held accountable for their actions. It will also assure that we put justice on the side of those among us who are most vulnerable. And finally, it will put an end to the kind of irresponsible and outrageous behavior we observed with Caylee's mother.”
There are already signs that the case may have an impact on the campaign trail. The team behind John Strifler, who is running in a special election for a First Coast state Senate seat with no party affiliation, told Sunshine State News that their candidate would support Hager’s proposal. Lawmakers in New York, Oklahoma and West Virginia are also drafting similar legislation.
While the politicians ponder what to do in the aftermath of the decision, the Florida legal community is also grappling with the high-profile case. While things are looking brighter for Casey Anthony, who is scheduled to be released next week for lying to police officers, her attorney Cheney Mason could be in some hot water.
On Thursday, John “Jack” Thompson, an activist and attorney who was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court in 2008, sent a letter to Ken Marvin, the director of lawyer regulation at the Florida Bar, complaining about a photo of Mason making obscene gestures taken earlier in the month.
“You may recall that a citizen who wandered into the State v. Anthony courtroom was held in contempt and sentenced to six days in jail for making the first of the above-noted gestures, so we have a ruling as to whether this is appropriate public behavior,” wrote Thompson, who garnered some national attention by taking on violent video games.
“Please note that Florida Bar Rule 4-8, ‘Maintaining the Integrity of the Profession,’ has been interpreted and applied by the Bar to bring within the scope of its disciplinary, regulatory powers the acts of lawyers outside a judicial proceeding," Thompson wrote. "In other words, the Bar’s current regulatory policy is that even actions by lawyers in a private setting that reflect poorly on the profession are disciplinable. This was an obscene activity in a public setting.
“Indeed, current Florida Bar President Scott Hawkins stated, at his swearing-in at last week’s annual Bar convention right in Orlando: ‘As lawyers we need to be mindful of how we talk to a waitress. Boys and girls are watching,’ added Thompson. “In that vein, Mr. Mason has made two obscene gestures in a public restaurant, with the whole world, including boys and girls, watching. Does this promote a salutary public perception of lawyers? Is the Bar going to look the other way and not enforce its rules as it has applied them to others, just because Mr. Mason won his case? Or is it going to do what it has to others, even to the point of disbarring lawyers for warning the public of a safety hazard by telling the truth on CBS’s '60 Minutes'?
“The whole world is watching the Florida Bar on this one,” insisted Thompson in closing.
Sunshine State News contacted the Florida Bar later in the day.
Karen Kirksey, a spokeswoman for the Bar, said no formal complaint concerning Mason was received as of Thursday afternoon and that the Bar has no comment.
"Any information in a complaint is confidential until a case is closed," she said.
Noting that Thompson has been "permanently disbarred," Kirksey added, "Anyone can file a complaint. Even if it's not true."
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859. Reach Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341. Gray Rohrer contributed to the story.