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Ethics panel advised to deny legal fees in unfounded Ken Hagan complaint

A Florida Ethics Commission staff attorney has drafted an order denying Hillsborough County's request for reimbursement for attorney fees from one of four citizens who filed unsustained ethics complaints against Commissioner Ken Hagan.

The commission will consider the matter at its Jan. 19 meeting.

But Mark Levine, Hagan's lawyer, says he'll argue that, rather than reject the petition, the commission should either accept it or give him time to amend it.

If the commission accepts the petition or an amended petition, the question would go before an administrative law judge, and Levine said he would seek further evidence about how the four individuals came to file their complaints.

The county paid Levine $7,841 last year to defend Hagan against the complaints, which stemmed from consideration of the Go Hillsborough transportation plan.

The complaints, all similar, alleged that Hagan received free campaign consulting services and other assistance from local public relations agent Beth Leytham, and repaid her by steering a $1.3 million contract related to Go Hillsborough to one of her clients.

An investigation by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which was reviewed by the State Attorney's Office, and the Ethics Commission itself found the charges unfounded.

One of the complainants, George Niemann of Dover, was a vocal opponent of Go Hillsborough and has filed previous ethics complaints against Hagan. Levine said the petition for fee reimbursement names him only because he took the lead in filing the complaints and has filed complaints against Hagan before.

The county's attempt to recoup its legal costs drew criticism both from conservative opponents of Go Hillsborough and some Democrats. Critics called it an attempt to silence critics of the board members by threatening them with financial penalties.

In November, the commissioners approved seeking the fees on a 4-3 vote, with Al Higginbotham, Les Miller and Sandy Murman joining Hagan in favor and Pat Kemp, Stacy White and Victor Crist opposed.

To obtain reimbursement, the county must meet a high legal standard: proving the complainant demonstrated "malicious intent to injure the reputation" of Hagan; knew the complaint included false allegations; or had "reckless disregard" for whether it was false.

Ethics Commission spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman said that standard is meant to avoid "too much of a chilling effect" on complainants seeking to hold government officials accountable.

"I'm thrilled with the draft," Niemann said. "His petition is retribution against me because I tried to scrutinize what he was doing, and used the only tool I have to do that with."

If the county doesn't win the case for the fees, it will cost taxpayers even more. County Attorney Chip Fletcher said the county has paid Levine $1,100 so far to pursue the petition.

"Why somebody would file a complaint without a basis of proof is really what's at issue here," Levine said. "There's no basis for the accusation."

Contact William March at wemarch@gmail.com

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SCOTT KEELER | Times

St. Petersburg artist Ya La'ford installs works at the Florida CraftArt Galley, 501 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, 1/12/18 in preparation for the opening of her show, GLYPHS, which opens Saturday, January 13, with a reception from 5:30pm to 7:30pm and runs through January 20. The work features La'ford's linear and cyclical geometric labyrinths. The artist invites visitors to contribute personalized written words, quotes, and drawings to an installation in the show that display a renewed message of hope, love, and progress for the City of St. Petersburg's future, said La'ford.

BY LAURA C. MOREL

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — During a recent Insane Clown Posse concert at Jannus Live, the horrorcore hip-hop duo known for wearing macabre clown makeup started spraying soda at the crowd.

Then they invited concertgoers to join them on stage.

Among the audience of fans, who call themselves Juggalos, was Sarah Hastings. As she joined in on the fun, Hastings slipped and fell off the stage, according to court records.

Hastings is now suing the security company hired for the Feb. 18 concert and Knight Global Entertainment, doing business as Jannus Live.

Splashing Faygo, a soda popular in ICP's hometown of Detroit, at fans is a common staple of the band's concerts.

But a complaint filed in Pinellas County this week alleges that Jannus Live staff should have ensured that the floor "was not left in a slippery and dangerous condition."

The St. Petersburg-based agency Signature Security Services also failed to "correct the dangerous condition of an overcrowded stage by helping and assisting concert goers over the barricades and onto the stage," records state.

It's unclear what injuries Hastings sustained, or why ICP isn't also named in the lawsuit. Her attorney, Darrell Kropog of Morgan & Morgan, declined comment on Thursday. Jannus Live also declined comment.

In an e-mail, Signature Security CEO Jason Nosal said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation, but wrote: "The safety of all of the establishments we secure is paramount. All personal injury matters are investigated fully."

This is not the first time an Insane Clown Posse concert resulted in civil action. A Texas woman previously sued the group for tossing a two-liter bottle of Faygo into her eye during a 2015 concert, according to a Daily Beast article.

According to the group's Facebook page, Insane Clown Posse "emerged from the darkness surrounding Detroit's underground music scene" in the early 1990s.

The group, comprised of artists Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, has a large following of fans who call themselves Juggalos, which comes from an ICP song called "the Juggla."

Last month, a U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed ICP's 2014 lawsuit against the FBI that alleged the federal agency violated their Constitutional rights when it called Juggalos a "loosely organized hybrid gang" in a 2011 report.

The National Gang Intelligence Center report also noted: "Juggalos' disorganization and lack of structure within their groups, coupled with their transient nature, makes it difficult to classify them and identify their members and migration patterns."

In September, Juggalos marched at the National Mall in Washington D.C. to protest the FBI's classification.

On her Facebook page, Hastings updated her profile photo in October with the words, "I'm a Juggalo, not a gang member."

Information from the Washington Post was used in this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.

Ethics panel advised to deny legal fees in unfounded Ken Hagan complaint

01/12/18 [Last modified: Friday, January 12, 2018 8:38pm]
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© 2018 Tampa Bay Times

    

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