As Ethics Hearing Starts Wednesday, Andrew Gillum Couldn’t be More Scared!
Gillum, who last year won an upset in the Democratic primary for governor only to lose the general election to Republican Ron DeSantis, will take the stand himself. The former Tallahassee mayor will testify he never accepted gifts from anyone outside family, let alone illegal ones during trips in 2016 to Costa Rica and New York City, Richard said.
The hearing, a trial-like proceeding before Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early, starts Wednesday at the Division of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee and could last anywhere from one and a half to three days. But it will not immediately conclude with a verdict — both sides will have time to submit recommended orders, and the judge will have time to consider the case. A decision may not come for weeks.\
Fallout from the FBI and ethics probe likely contributed to Gillum’s bruising loss in the governor’s race. And whatever happens next week could have major implications for his political future in Florida and beyond.
“It’s big stakes over small issues,” said Charles Zelden, a professor of history and political science at Nova Southeastern University. “We’re not talking bundles of cash in the freezer. But in some ways, because it doesn’t involve that, it makes the whole process more ambiguous. And it would be hard for him if it isn’t true to be completely exonerated, because it comes down to a judgment call.”
Gillum lawyer: Mayor didn’t take gifts
In January, the state Ethics Commission unanimously found probable cause that Gillum solicited and accepted illegal gifts and failed to report them during the trips. Under Florida law, public officials can’t take gifts over $100 from a lobbyist or vendor and they must report gifts over $100 from people other than lobbyist and vendors. Gifts from family are exempt.
To prevail, the state must show on certain counts Gillum acted corruptly, or with wrongful intent, or with a knowledge that his official action would be influenced. The prosecution must prove its case by clear and convincing evidence, lower than the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard used in criminal courts.
Corey, who was a close friend and traveling companion of Gillum for years before a falling out during the campaign, declined to testify during the ethics investigation because of the ongoing FBI probe. However, he signed a sworn affidavit saying Gillum never paid him for the villa stay in Costa Rica. He also said Mike Miller paid for all the Big Apple outings and that Gillum was, “to the best of my knowledge,” aware of it.
However, it’s unclear whether that affidavit will be allowed into evidence. Richard objected to it as hearsay in a recent court filing.
Richard said Gillum paid for his Costa Rica expenses in cash and took the “Hamilton” ticket from his brother, Marcus Gillum, outside the theater. He added Gillum paid for his own hotel room in New York other than one night in his brother’s room. And he said the boat trip’s value was under $100.
“It was his policy when he was mayor not to accept gifts of any value, even a drink or a sandwich,” Richard said. “He just didn’t accept gifts from anybody other than his family. There is no evidence he accepted a gift, much less a gift over $100, and certainly no clear and convincing evidence in this case.”
Gillum could have pursued a settlement but opted to contest the accusations, which stem from a citizen complaint. If he’s found guilty, he could face civil penalties including fines and public censure.
Some witnesses, including Gillum’s brother, testified in depositions and won’t appear in the hearing room, Richard said. Both the prosecution and defense plan to call a number of the same witnesses, including Gillum’s wife, R. Jai Gillum, and his longtime political confidante, Tallahassee lawyer and lobbyist Sean Pittman.
Allegations could follow Gillum
Gillum reemerged after his defeat in the governor’s race with an ambitious Democratic voter-registration initiative and stints as a CNN contributor and Harvard fellow. Despite his statewide loss, he’s still seen by some as a rising star in the Democratic Party and a potential candidate for high office or Beltway appointment.
But even if he’s cleared of the allegations, he may never be able to fully shake them. Were he to run for office again, they would be fodder for more attack ads.