BRADENTON, Fla. — A judge dismissed a charge against one person and sentenced another to prison in cases stemming from a scandal that dogged central Florida's former Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority.
Judge Tanya Davis Wilson on Oct. 21 dismissed the sole charge against lobbyist Chris Dorworth, a former state representative, who was accused of violating the state's law that prohibits public business from being discussed in private, also known as the Sunshine law.
Wilson ruled that the misdemeanor charge would violate Dorworth's right to free speech since he is a private citizen, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The decision avoided a trial for Dorworth, which was to begin Oct. 23.
Jeff Ashton, central Florida's state attorney, reportedly plans to appeal the decision against Dorworth because there is no case law concerning a Sunshine law violation against a person who is not an appointed or elected official.
Dorworth had been charged in connection with the long-running case that initially began with an investigation against former OOCEA board members Scott Batterson and Marco Pena.
Batterson, who was convicted of two felony bribery charges in August, was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison by Wilson on Oct. 17.
Batterson posted a $10,000 bond, and is expected to remain free while he appeals the bribery conviction.
The bribery charges against Batterson were filed after investigators found that he had conversations with several people, one who testified in court that he believed that Batterson was offering his firm a contract in return for hiring certain people.
The long-running case led to indictments charging Dorworth and his girlfriend, Rebekah Hammond, with violating the Sunshine law for conversations they had with various expressway board members, including Batterson and others. Prosecutors said they two acted as go-betweens to exchange information among various officials.
The Sunshine law charge was dropped against Hammond, who also worked for the Florida Department of Transportation.
Pena resigned from the board but pleaded guilty to breaking the Sunshine law.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a law signed by Gov. Rick Scott abolishing the OOCEA board, which covered one county.
Lawmakers replaced it with the regional Central Florida Expressway Authority, which now covers four counties. It also assumed the former agency's $2.66 billion of outstanding bonds.