Justice In Orlando, Florida: How It Works And For Whom
Back in 2008, a few weeks after the Chris Comins shot Hoochie and Raley, I predicted that the well-connected gunman would never be punished for what he did. That prediction came true last week; and when it did, I wasn’t surprised or even particularly upset. I’ve had a long time to come to terms with the way things work in central Florida.
So, what now?
Christopher Comins had an opportunity to truly put this ordeal behind him. A small part of me thought maybe he’d take that opportunity. But within a few days of the judge’s peculiar Not Guilty verdict in Comins’ animal cruelty trial, the dog shooter’s attorneys contacted mine to schedule my deposition. That’s right, he’s pressing onward with his mission to silence those who disagree with his behavior.
That’s when I remembered the rule I learned on the school bus back in first grade: never underestimate a bully’s audacity. Comins doesn’t just want to be exonerated; he wants to be able to pretend this whole thing never happened.
To that end, why shouldn’t Comins keep taking the battle to court? He obviously can’t win in the court of public opinion—but he can’t lose in the Orange County Courthouse. In the judicial system, success hinges largely on the size of your bank account. Thus, despite two disturbing gun incidents that might have landed the ordinary citizen in jail, Comins remains virtually unscathed by justice, and still allowed to carry a firearm around on our American streets. Thus, both legal blawgs and animal cruelty websites alike have concluded “something really stinks down in Orange County.” Andrea at For The Love Of The Dog Blog declares
Yeah, it’s broken. The Scale of Justice is horribly off balance… It’s an assembly line of delays, motions, tactics, deals, apathy, rich vs. poor, who you know, poor laws, and poor enforcement and administration of these laws.
Still, I will continue to defend myself in court against this bully for as long as he continues his attack. I have no choice. His goal is to get my blog deleted so that all record of his heinous incident is eventually erased. It will be as if it never happened—a brutal dog shooting erased from recorded memory, as it’s already been disappeared from Fox News’ archives. (Seriously).
For me, pushing back against Comins’ SLAPP lawsuit isn’t just about the dogs. It’s about the principle that We the People have a right to voice our opinions on this matters of public concern; that includes the 2008 Orlando dog shootings, which (as media outlets continue to remind us) drew “international attention.” We had a right to disagree with the fact that Comins’ continued shooting the dogs after their owner arrived and begged him to stop; we had a right to sign petitions demanding justice when our elected state attorney Lawson Lamar initially punted on whether or not to charge the shooter; to send letters to our elected public officials; to peaceably assemble in protest outside the Orange County Courthouse. All of those activities are enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Not only am I unashamed at having taken part in such activities; I am proud to have been a part of them. I believe lawsuits like this one hurt democracy, as does the fact that so few defendants stand up to them. If no one ever demonstrates a willingness to fight back, then what incentive is there for Plaintiffs not to file SLAPP lawsuits in the first place? That’s why I say I feel as if I have no choice but to continue fighting.
This isn’t just empty rhetoric I’ve adopted on the fly. These are my principles, our national values. I believe in them to my very core.
What does it mean when multimillionaire businessmen have the ability to sue anybody who expresses an opinion that happens to be critical of them or their activities, without any serious possibility of being penalized if the lawsuit turns out to be baseless? What if every public figure who ever faced criticism responded by suing his critics? Would you want to live in a country where no one protested or petitioned or had a personality, out of fear that they could be sued for doing so?
Some of you may be thinking, “If you’re so confident you did nothing wrong, then what’s the big deal?”
So far my defense has cost over fifty thousand dollars, and we haven’t even gotten to depositions yet, much less the trial itself. The winnings side in a civil case doesn’t automatically gets reimbursed for their expenses; that requires an even greater investment, and along with it, additional risk. That’s the big deal.
You may disagree vehemently with my opinion on the dog shooting; everyone should do their own research and decide for themselves, as I did. But think long and hard about whether the fact that I voiced an opinion you disagreed with justifies a $50,000 punishment. (Just for a frame of comparison, Comins only paid $25,000 to the dog owner whose dogs he shot).
I am not whining. I realize that’s how the simpletons among you view it; it might look that way through the wool. But I’m merely expressing my beliefs about the judicial system in states like Florida with no anti-SLAPP statute. These are my thoughts; take them for what you will. Disagree with them, offer evidence to refute them. Call me a douchebag on my own blog; I won’t even delete your comments. But please, don’t shut down the entire discussion.
Who would want to do that except someone with nothing whatsoever to say; someone for whom facts are incredibly embarrassing?