Intimidating Letter Faxed to Seminole Chronicle Charges Story on Feeney was 'False and Defamatory'
Feeney Attorney Uses Unrelated and Questionable 'Ethics Investigation' as Sole Basis for Claims
By Brad Friedman on 12/24/2004, 6:24pm PT  

Congressman Tom Feeney's (R-FL) attorneys have sent a letter threatening the editors of Florida's Seminole Chronicle intimating possible legal action in light of the news report filed by Editor Alex Babcock last week concerning allegations made in a sworn affidavit [PDF] and in sworn public testimony before members of the U.S. House Judiciary committee by software programmer Clint Curtis.

The story of Curtis' allegations and affidavit was originally reported by The BRAD BLOG several weeks ago. Curtis has alleged, among other things, that Feeney conspired, in an October 2000 meeting, to have a "vote-rigging software prototype" built by Yang Enterprises, Inc. --- a company for which Feeney at the time served as corporate counsel and registered lobbyist even while he concurrently served as Legislator, and eventually Speaker of the Florida House. Feeney was the running mate to Jeb Bush during his first failed bid for Governor of Florida, and is now a U.S. Congressman from Florida's newly created 24th Congressional District. He also now sits on the U.S. House's Judiciary Committee.

The letter from John P. Horan of "Foley and Lardner, attorneys at law", was faxed to Babcock at the Seminole Chronicle office earlier this week. It alleges the newspaper's report "constitute[d] a serious departure from accepted journalism standards and a breach of the Chronicle's fair reporting privilege."

Horan goes on to accuse Babcock of reporting "in a sensational, reckless and unfair manner," and claims that "This conduct exceeds all known bounds of bias and constitutes a reckless disregard for the truth."

According to the letter, Horan's charges on behalf of Feeney, stem from his claim that "These assertions were fully investigated by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics which found that 'there was no probable cause' to believe the assertions and dismissed each complaint."

However, BRAD BLOG research into those ethics charges filed against Feeney, and their supposed "investigation", has revealed that the commission referred to, and the investigation itself, appear to have had serious flaws and conflicts of interest involved. Many of which were reported at the time of the commission's findings by a number of Florida newspapers.

For a start, six of the eight members of the "Commission on Ethics" which Horan's letter refers to, were appointed to the commission by and/or have direct ties to either Tom Feeney or his old running-mate and then Governor, Jeb Bush!

On October 17, 2002, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on the "Commission on Ethics" findings that Horan uses as the only basis for criticism of the Seminole Chronicle's article.

The News-Journal reported on those findings by revealing that neither the investigator looking into the ethics complaint nor the two key witnesses in the case were ever even interviewed by the commission! Despite a state law that requires them to do so!

As well, public documents in the case --- including Email which directly contradicted statements made by Feeney to the commission during the "investigation" --- were similarly never investigated, also in apparent violation of state law, according to the paper.

From just one of several articles on this from the Daytona Beach News-Journal...

Feeney ethics probe ignored key elements

An investigator looking into an ethics complaint against House Speaker Tom Feeney failed to examine public documents or interview key witnesses as required by state law.

Records show the investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics into whether Feeney improperly used his position to benefit one of his legal clients consisted only of denials of wrongdoing by the Oviedo Republican and other state officials. State law requires the investigation to include all evidence, including documents and inter- views with people related to the complaint.

The public records the investigator failed to collect include e-mails that conflict with state- ments Feeney has made about the role he played in gaining special favors for his client, Yang Enterprises, an Oviedo computer firm, including arranging meetings with state officials who have the most say over state technology contracts.

Feeney told the ethics investigator he never spoke to anyone at the State Technology Office about Yang. Records show Feeney arranged a meeting in his legislative office in Oviedo for Yang with State Technology Of fice head Roy Cales in July 2000.

The commission investigator also did not interview two former state employees who claimed Yang submitted false invoices in its $8 million contract with the Florida Department of Transportation and that Feeney pressured DOT in the matter. The employees were subsequently fired by DOT.

(The full article is available for purchase only, via the News-Journal's Print Archives.)

Of the "two former state employees" referred to in the News-Journal's article, one was Clint Curtis who has confirmed with The BRAD BLOG that he was never interviewed by the commission during their "investigation", despite having been one of the two individuals who made the initial complaint!

The other state employee, who has requested that we do not publish their name at this time, has also confirmed in interviews with The BRAD BLOG that they were similarly never interviewed by the commission.

Furthermore, the allegations made by Curtis that Feeney conspired to commit vote-fraud, and which Babcock reported on in his article, were not even the charges that the "Commission on Ethics" was supposedly looking into via their questionable investigation!

In all of this, the power of Tom Feeney in Florida should not be overlooked or underestimated. Despite a comment to the contrary made by Feeney to MSNBC producer. As reported by Keith Olbermann earlier this week, Feeney said in regard to these charges "I'm very amused by it. I wish I had some of the power that he suggests."

As it turns out, Feeney does have that power.

In a Time Magazine article from November 26, 2000, Feeney is described as perhaps being "the only man more influential in Florida than football king Bobby Bowden."

And on November 20, 2001, The Orlando Sentinel described Feeney, who had by then become Florida House Speaker for at least a full year, as "one of Florida's most powerful elected officials".

In regards to the letter from Feeney's attorney, The BRAD BLOG recognizes such an obvious, thuggish and ham-fisted attempt to intimidate a responsible member of the press at Feeney's small hometown paper for exactly what it is: An attempt to suppress the growing scandal that has emerged during our continuing investigation, and that of other reporters like Babcock, into these very troubling matters.

The intent of such a letter is little more than an effort to send a chilling message to all such reporters who would dare look into these charges.

We commend Babcock's courage in standing up to such a reprehensible tactic and for his apparent vows to continue his paper's investigation and reporting on a story of great national and local importance and newsworthiness.

In an unbylined opinion piece from yesterday's Chronicle (which Babcock confirms that he wrote for the paper after having received the letter from Feeney's attorney), Babcock remained both defiant and, fortunately, clear-headed about his journalistic responsibilities to the people: [emphasis added]

In reporting on the charges made by Clint Curtis against Feeney, our goal was to inform you, our readers, of serious charges made in a public forum before members of Congress investigating voting irregularities.

It is this role that all news organizations should play, to keep a watchful eye over the government that serves us. It's your business as voters to know what your elected representatives are doing, and what they have been accused of doing.
...
We attempted and failed to contact Feeney prior to publication, but went ahead with the article because the forum in which the claims were presented was so high-profile, and the charges so incendiary, that to ignore them would have been irresponsible. Continued attempts by the Chronicle to interview Feeney on the record have been denied by his office.

Michigan Congressman John Conyers, who presided over the forum that heard Curtis' allegations, found Curtis credible enough to allow him to address a group of Feeney's peers. Because Conyers felt the testimony was valid, we thought you should know about it, too.

In an interview today with The BRAD BLOG, Babcock confirmed that attempts to contact Feeney prior to publication were unsuccessful.

While all such attempts to contact Feeney prior to publication of the original article went unanswered, it seems that once the article was published things changed very quickly. Babcock received both phone calls and email from a representative of Feeney's office the very next day.

He told us that he spoke for a while with a member of Feeney's staff, and during that call it was "made clear that their policy is to stay off record."

Babcock added, "We would be happy to speak with Tom Feeney if he would like to tell his side of the story."

Babcock's statements are consistent with the even-handedness of his article, as well as previous discussions we've had with him over the past week concerning this matter.

While others in the media have shown some reluctance to report these troubling charges concerning our elected public officials, Babcock is to be congratulated for refusing to turn away from difficult issues merely on the grounds that they contain explosive allegations and several very powerful elected officials.

He is doing the job of journalist and, so far, he has been doing it with fairness, honesty and transparency.

The Clint Curtis allegations about Tom Feeney were indeed made in public, under penalty of perjury, and specified detailed charges of wrong-doing and potential felonies. These were not allegations made in the dark, by unnamed persons or shadowy figures, but rather out in the open, by a man who has invited scrutiny, skepticism and has been willing to answer the questions of just about anyone who would like to talk to him about these matters.

The public has the right to know about such issues and the press has the responsibility to inform the public. Both sides deserved to be aired and investigated, and Babcock seems to have made every attempt to do precisely that in a responsible fashion.

The BRAD BLOG has reviewed the entire faxed letter from Horan, and we will be happy to publish it in it's entirety if permission is granted by Babcock or the Seminole Chronicle publishers (Knight Newspapers) to do so. Babcock has said his publishers are currently reviewing the letter from Feeney's attorney and are considering their reply.

...CONTACTS...

Tom Feeney
Website: Congressman Tom Feeney (R-FL)
Email: unknown
DC Phone: 202-225-2706
DC Fax: 202-226-6299

Tom Feeney, Campaign Headquarters, FL
1420 Alafaya Trail, Suite 103
Oviedo, Florida 32765
(407) 366-2212
Email: Todd Sykes, Campaign Coordinator
NOTE: The above address is in the Yang Enterprises, Inc. (YEI) building.
Feeney ran unopposed in 2004.

Seminole Chronicle
Email: Alex Babcock, Editor (Include Name, Address and Phone if you wish letter to be considered for publication.)
Website: www.SeminoleChronicle.com