U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks dismissed a civil complaint filed by Michelle Spence-Jones claiming an unsuccessful corruption case against her was a conspiracy based on a political vendetta.
Spence-Jones, whom Middlebrooks called a "disgruntled criminal defendant," was charged with bribery and grand theft and removed from office in 2010 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. But a jury acquitted her of bribery and the grand theft charges were dropped and she returned to the city commission.
The complaint accused Mayor Tomas Regalado and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle of working together on a fabricated and malicious corruption case intended to drive Spence-Jones from office.
"This case, brought by a disgruntled criminal defendant, lacks merit and vividly demonstrates the reasons underlying prosecutorial immunity," wrote Middlebrooks. "Public corruption is difficult to prosecute. Defendants often have a public following, and charges sometimes have public consequences apart from the individual office holders. Partisan politics can engender charges of favoritism. It is often necessary for a jury to decide whether cronyism, politics-as-usual, and influence peddling have crossed the line between unsavory or ethically challenged behavior and theft or bribery. Victims are loath to step forward when they must regularly seek favor from elected officials. The shifting testimony and motivations of witnesses is frequently problematic."
Fernandez Rundle issued a statement, saying: “I remained confident that my prosecutors acted correctly, professionally, and ethically based on the evidence and Florida law. These frivolous and baseless attacks were distracting and were clearly intended to inhibit prosecutors, particularly public corruption prosecutors, from doing their jobs. The court agreed."