By Mary Hladky and Emily J. Minor
The state’s case against suspended Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie took a small step forward July 26 when the judge set an Oct. 26 hearing to again review pretrial progress.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley also set aside 30 minutes on Sept. 11 to consider a request from Haynie’s attorney, Bruce Zimet, to dismiss all seven charges against her.
Haynie, 62, was arrested April 24 on charges that she failed to disclose income she and her husband, Neil, received from James Batmasian, the city’s largest downtown commercial landowner whose city projects she favored in several City Council votes. She has not resigned as mayor, although Gov. Rick Scott suspended her April 27.
She faces four felony and three misdemeanor charges, including official misconduct, perjury in an official proceeding, misuse of public office, corrupt misuse of public office and failure to disclose voting conflict.
Earlier in July — responding to Zimet’s motion to dismiss all charges against Haynie because of what he argues are flaws in the charging document — Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes tweaked the wording in the state’s allegations, which he then said should have cleared up matters.
Fernandes, who declined to comment, said during the brief hearing that he hopes the court can set a trial date in October.
After the hearing, Zimet said he’s still not happy with the state’s charges. He said the felony perjury charge doesn’t say what “alleged statement [Haynie] is accused of making.”
Zimet said, “That’s why we’ve filed the motion” to dismiss.
At the core of the state’s case are allegations that Haynie, a longtime city servant who has lived in Boca Raton for decades, collected hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2014, including some from business agreements with Batmasian, which Haynie failed to disclose in forms required by the state.
During that time, prosecutors say she cast four favorable votes on Batmasian projects.
Haynie has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has waived her right to a speedy trial.
In the motion to dismiss the charges, Zimet contended the state made mistakes in the charges against Haynie.
The most consequential involves a state anti-corruption law that was amended by the Florida 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. Therefore, Haynie was charged with a “nonexistent 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 standard in the first two official misconduct charges. It said the new wording made moot Zimet’s effort to get those charges dismissed.
The state also changed the misdemeanor charges to state that Haynie acted “willfully.”
But the state also contended that there were no other deficiencies in the charges that prevented Zimet from preparing an adequate defense for Haynie.
Zimet responded with a second motion to dismiss, arguing that the state had not fixed all the flaws in its charging document.
The charges are so vague that it is not clear what the actual allegations are against Haynie and how she benefited from her allegedly illegal actions, the motion states.
“In most simplistic terms, it is impossible for a defendant to properly defend themselves if the State fails to properly identify the actual criminal activity the State alleges that a defendant has committed,” it states.