Ethics commission sets new legal standard at politician’s request

Today, the Florida Commission on Ethics (FCE) granted a 30-day extension to Hillsborough county commissioner Ken Hagan to amend a petition he filed for recovering attorneys fees and cost. The matter concerned an ethics complaint filed by Dover resident George Niemann, a complaint Hagan believes was malicious and unfounded and which the FCE previously dismissed due to lack of probable cause.

Today’s hearing and further background on this matter are summarized in this FloridaPolitics.Com article. However, the TampaBayGuardian.Com decided to find out if such a request to amend a petition was normally approved.

“This is the first time the Commission has allowed an amendment to a petition for costs and fees”, said Kerrie Stillman, spokesperson for the FCE. Stillman was responding to our public records request for any records of prior extensions granted. “I believe this only the second time anyone has applied for an extension,” Stillman said.

Video of today’s proceeding’s involving Hagan’s petition is available here. Note: poor sound quality.

“Hagan’s attorney filed a bad petition,” said Niemann. “In his recommendation that they dismiss Hagan’s petition, the FCE staff attorney gave all the legal reasons why their petition was insufficient.”

“Now Hagan’s attorney can use that info to file the petition they should have filed to begin with” Niemann continued. “That’s why granting an extension is a bad precedent. Hagan gets two bites at the apple and now you tell me that the Ethics Commission has never, ever done this before. That’s just outrageous and unfair.”

A provision in the Florida Administrative Procedures Act, specifically 120.569(2)(c), generally allows a petitioner to amend a dismissed petition “unless it conclusively appears from the face of the petition that the defect cannot be cured.” However, this the the first time the FCE acted on

“With the additional 30 days, they effectively get an extension on the original 30-day deadline to file,” Niemann said. “That is another problem. You could just file an insufficient petition to give you more time than the 30 days allowed. The potential for mischief is great.”

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