State Attorney Jeff Ashton Crushing Private Citizens Free Speech?

    Where is the Outrage Over the Persecution & Prosecution of Chris Dorworth?


    By Jacob Engels


    My piece on the bizarre, seemingly unfair and legally indefensible indictment of lobbyist Chris Dorworth really struck a nerve out there.  One local GOP activist said:


    “The Orlando Sentinel hates Chris Dorworth so much they will never, in a million years, point out how obviously off base this prosecution is.  Their enemy’s enemy is their friend.  If the goal of the press is to afflict the comforted and comfort the afflicted, that stops for that soon-to-be out of business newspaper when someone they hate as much as Chris Dorworth is involved.”


    The Sentinel has been totally silent on this, but nobody is real surprised by that.  If Dorworth is exonerated, he will likely get one sentence in a blog.  If he is convicted, it will be front-page news for 6 months.  You do have to wonder… if Teresa Jacobs was accused of the exact same thing, as a public official, would they be rallying to her defense the way they did in TextGate? 


    One of the more interesting responses I got came from the lobbying community, from a lobbyist more closely affiliated with democrats than republicans.


    He wrote:


    “Lobbyists are an interesting breed.  They socialize with each other while they work, often times sharing a glass of expensive scotch moments before or moments after the metaphorically cut each others throats in business.  They are best friends and mortal enemies, all in one.  There is little collective vision for the profession, because, well, everybody does things their own way and somebody else’s bad news usually becomes another lobbyists good news. 


    What happened to Chris should scare the s**t out of every lobbyist in Tallahassee, and around the state.  Why?  Because pending the outcome of his case, there could be a precedent in place that could make each and every one of them a criminal just for doing their jobs.


    Seriously, what if he decides to get this whole thing in the rear view mirror by just paying the fine and moving on?  Precedent would be set and upheld that a lobbyist… a paid lobbyist who is a private citizen, can be convicted of a crime that the law clearly says doesn’t apply to him.  If Chris pled guilty, there would be no appeal.  This would be case law, around for eternity, that would subject every paid advocate to new, never before contemplated, criminal penalties.


    If ever there was a time for the lobbying profession to stand up and take notice, this is the time.  In contrast, the screams over compensation reporting and gift ban are really nothing compared to what this could do.


    The way I understand it, Chris got charged because he worked two board members to get something done.  How is this any different than when a lobbyist goes to Senator A and tells them that a powerful legislator, someone like Bill Galvano, a future senate president, is supporting a bill, and would like their support, too?  If Dorworth pleads guilty, or if a jury convicted him, working that bill before a committee is a violation of the Sunshine Law, and the lobbyist who did it just committed a misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail.”


    This lobbyist has one hell of a point.   Really, where is the outrage?  If Dorworth can be charged with this, and if he chose to plead guilty with a fact pattern that is replicated hundreds if not thousands of times every day during Florida’s legislative session, what would stop an overzealous prosecutor like, say, Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs, from indicting any lobbyist he doesn’t like by citing “the state of Florida vs. Chris Dorworth” as the necessary legal precedent?


    The Florida Association of Political Lobbyists would have more members charged with misdemeanors than a Lindsay Lohan family reunion.


    FAPL, where are you guys???  Doesn’t seem real smart for you guys to sit idly by while your profession is being criminalized by an overzealous prosecutor with a personal vendetta, ESPECIALLY when most of you guys live in a county with the most political state prosecutor in the state.


    Finally, a former legislator from down south wrote in harping on Florida’s First Amendment Foundation.


    “What a joke these guys are.  They don’t give a damn about the First Amendment, they care about public records law and the Sunshine Law, but only the part about access to meetings.  I guess the Florida Public Records and Access Foundation isn’t quite as sexy as First Amendment Foundation.


    I went to their website to see what they had to say, and there was nothing.  How can an organization called the First Amendment Foundation sit idly by while a citizen’s right to speak freely, petitioning their government, is infringed upon.


    I checked their website under the Sunshine Issues.


    They have letters to everyone, but make no mention of the fact that a private citizen has been indicted with a misdemeanor charge, in what is a pretty spectacular infringement of the first amendment.  If this isn’t a “Sunshine Issue”, what is?


    The Nassau Humane Society is slow to turn over their financials and it’s a top priority.  Several people have had CRIMINAL CHARGES filed against them for more or less petitioning their government and the FAF is silent.  This is tantamount to a patient focusing on beating a common cold while ignoring a spreading cancer.”


    I must say that I agree with the former legislator.  How is it possible that an organization that is named after the First Amendment is completely silent on the prosecution of a private citizen who is having his First Amendment completely usurped.


    I am reminded of the quote from Martin Niemoller, the vocal public foe of concentration camps during World War II:


    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
    Because I was not a Socialist.


    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– 
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.


    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– 
    Because I was not a Jew.


    Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.


    For those in the media, the lobbying community or the First Amendment Foundation not concerned that someone’s rights are being stomped on for doing something so very obviously not illegal, don’t come crying to me when it happens to you.



    Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at