By Steve Plunkett
Court transcribers are busily typing what they anticipate will be 1,800 pages detailing former Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella’s recent criminal trial.
Lucibella, 65, is appealing his Feb. 21 sentence, in which he was ordered to pay $675 in court costs. A six-person jury found him guilty of misdemeanor battery, a lesser charge, instead of felony battery on a law enforcement officer; he also was found not guilty of resisting arrest with violence.
And on March 25 he offered to pay Ocean Ridge police Officer Nubia Plesnik $100 if she drops her civil lawsuit, which accuses him of battery and negligence.
“I can’t get my reputation back, but I will have my record cleared,” Lucibella said. “What was done to Barbara and I was wrong, and we intend to address every last vestige of this false arrest.”
Barbara Ceuleers is Lucibella’s girlfriend.
West Palm Beach lawyer Leonard Feuer filed Lucibella’s notice of appeal Feb. 26 but did not pay the transcript costs until March 18. That started a 30-day clock for the transcribers, who must type about 78 pages a day to finish by April 17.
Meanwhile, Richard Slinkman, Plesnik’s lawyer, demanded “better answers” from Lucibella in the civil case. Lucibella claimed his “Fifth Amendment right to remain silent” 77 times, Slinkman said in a Feb. 25 court filing. Those responses were given in November 2017, almost 15 months before the criminal trial.
Lucibella disputed Slinkman’s characterization of his responses about Plesnik. “I’ve not plead the Fifth at all,” he said. “I affirmatively denied her allegations.”
He also said Slinkman does not want better answers. “He actually wants a sleazy payday for him and his client, in that order,” Lucibella said.
Slinkman bristled at Lucibella’s statements, saying he only wants justice for Plesnik and calling Lucibella “a sad, little, entitled man who feels that, because he is wealthy, he is above the law and doesn’t need to take responsibility for his own improper actions.”
Slinkman previously had submitted his own settlement proposal in the case. Under Florida law, whichever side loses will pay the winner’s attorney fees from the date the proposal was filed.
Slinkman said he and Plesnik “are not concerned” with Lucibella’s proposal for a settlement. “We are confident in the jury system and confident that we will prevail at trial,” Slinkman said.
Florida court guidelines say most civil lawsuits should reach the jury in 18 months.
In the felony trial, Plesnik testified that Lucibella was loud and belligerent during his Oct. 22, 2016, arrest. Plesnik, Officer Richard Ermeri and Sgt. William Hallahan went to Lucibella’s backyard that night to investigate reports of gunfire.
“I was trying to put him down like a child, sit down!” Plesnik told the jury.
She has since missed reporting for police duty for several months because of shoulder problems caused by his actions, she testified.
Slinkman said that instead of throwing out insults, Lucibella should turn his critical eye inward.
“When a person gets drunk, acts like a fool, embarrasses himself, and in the process injures an innocent person who was simply out doing her job and protecting the public as a law enforcement officer, he should take responsibility for his own actions ... instead of passing the cost of these medical bills and other losses onto the citizens of Ocean Ridge,” he said.
Misdemeanor appeal months away
Appealing a misdemeanor to a District Court of Appeal is so rare, Florida does not keep statistics, said Paul Flemming of the Office of the State Courts Administrator in Tallahassee.
“The number of misdemeanor cases filed in the district courts would be extremely small, since the appellate divisions of the circuit courts have jurisdiction over most misdemeanor cases,” Flemming said.
But Lucibella’s was a felony case heard in Circuit Court that led to a misdemeanor conviction, so the appeal goes to the 4th DCA.
Lucibella’s appeal should carry the case into 2020. Generally, it takes two to three months after the last document is filed to get on the court’s calendar, the court’s website says. A three-judge panel renders its decision in most cases within 180 days, the website advises.