State Sen. Gary Siplin celebrates reversed conviction
Jan 1, 2008
Orlando Sentinel, 1/1/2008
State Sen. Gary Siplin broke his silence Monday and spoke openly about the appeal-court reversal of his 2006 grand-theft conviction.
Close to two dozen friends and family, including Orlando City Commissioners Daisy Lynum and Sam Ings and the president of the Orange County branch of the NAACP, the Rev. Randolph Bracy Jr., surrounded the Orlando Democrat, who said he felt ‘refreshed, re-energized and ready.’ ‘Glory, sweet glory be to God,’ Siplin said outside the Orange County Courthouse. ‘The court ruled that State Senator Gary Siplin did not take one red cent from the state of Florida and that State Senator Gary Siplin did not deceive one red cent from anybody.’ Prosecutors with the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office had argued that Siplin, 53, knew his staffer Naomi Cooper was working on his 2004 re-election campaign on state time, costing taxpayers more than $9,000. An Orange County jury agreed and found him guilty.
The 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach ruled Friday that evidence in that case was circumstantial, however. ‘There was no evidence to show that [Siplin] knew, could have known, wanted this to happen or benefited from it happening,’ his attorney Diana Tennis said. ‘[The ruling] was justice, pure and simple.’ Siplin, an Orlando lawyer, cannot be retried on the charge, according to the ruling.
The judges, however, sent the senator’s misdemeanor conviction — for using two staffers to translate campaign materials — back to the lower court. The state can elect to try him again.
Bracy said the accusations against Siplin were ‘serious miscarriage of justice.’ ‘We exhort Senator Gary Siplin to keep doing what he’s always done. Now it’s time to move on,’ Bracy said. The senator, who was first elected to the state House in 2000 and joined the Senate in 2002, would not say whether he will run for office again.
Siplin gave special thanks to Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, for standing by him since he was arrested in April 2006.
Senate rules allow a lawmaker convicted of a felony to be automatically ejected from the chamber, but the Senate’s chief lawyer determined that case law allowed Siplin to keep his seat until he had exhausted his appeals. ‘[Pruitt] has faith in Gary Siplin,’ Siplin said. ‘He has allowed the process to run its full course. I am proud of him and other leaders in the Florida Senate.’ Walter Pacheco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org