By Mary Hladky
Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley denied a defense motion to dismiss public corruption charges against suspended Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie at a Sept. 11 hearing, but the ruling will have little impact on how the case proceeds.
Bruce Zimet, Haynie’s defense lawyer, told Kelley his motion was not intended to bring a swift resolution to the case but was simply an attempt to clarify the charges against Haynie so that he can defend her.
“All these things can be cleaned up easily… so a proper defense can be prepared,” Zimet said.
Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes said no cleanup is needed because the charges against Haynie are adequately stated and state law does not require him to do more.
“We have complied with our legal requirements,” Fernandes said.
After the hearing, Zimet said he would file more motions in coming weeks and did not predict when the case would go to trial.
Asked whether the case might end with a plea bargain, Zimet said, “I don’t think so.”
Haynie, 62, did not appear at the hearing. She has pleaded not guilty and has waived her right to a speedy trial.
She was arrested on April 24 on seven charges, including official misconduct, perjury, misuse of public office, and failure to disclose voting conflicts. If convicted, she faces more than 20 years in prison.
Gov. Rick Scott suspended her from office, and Haynie dropped out of the District 4 county commission race.
Prosecutors contend that Haynie used her position on the city council to vote on four matters that financially benefited James Batmasian, the city’s largest downtown commercial landowner, and failed to disclose income she received from him.
The investigation by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office public corruption unit found that Haying failed to report $335,000 in income in disclosure forms required by the state, including $84,000 from Batmasian or his company Investments Limited, from 2014 through 2017.
Zimet had filed two motions to dismiss the charges, contending the state made mistakes in the charges that warranted their dismissal.
The most consequential involves a state anti-corruption law that was amended by the legislature in 2016 to make it easier for prosecutors to prove corruption.
The law initially said the state had to establish that a public official acted with “corrupt intent.” The amended law changed that to “knowingly and intentionally,” a lesser standard of proof.
But in two of the felony official misconduct charges against Haynie, prosecutors said she acted “knowingly and intentionally” even though her alleged crimes occurred before that language went into effect. As a result, Haynie was charged with a “non-existent crime,” the motion to dismiss states.
The third felony official misconduct count did not lay out how she violated the law, while the felony perjury count does not say what false statement Haynie is accused of making. The three misdemeanor charges do not say Haynie’s violations were “willful” and so do not allege a criminal offense, the motion states.
In response, the state amended its charging document in July, conceding Zimet’s contention that it had used the wrong language in the first two official misconduct charges and said the new wording made moot Zimet’s effort to get those charges tossed.
The state also changed the misdemeanor charges to state that Haynie acted “willfully.”
At the Sept. 11 hearing, Fernandes said those actions remedied any “perceived” problems with the charging document.
But Zimet argued that the state had not adequately fixed the problems. The charges remain so vague that it is not clear what the actual allegations are against Haynie and how she benefited from her allegedly illegal actions, he said.
Kelley, however, ruled that the charging document is “sufficient.”
The next scheduled hearing in the case is an Oct. 26 status check.