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Zimmerman prosecution staffer files whistleblower suit over testimony on unreleased evidence

By Reuters
Friday, August 2, 2013 18:51 EDT
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State Attorney Angela Corey and her assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda (R) address the media following the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, Florida, July 13, 2013. REUTERS/Gary W. Green/Pool
 
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) – A former employee of Florida State Attorney Angela Corey’s office is suing the prosecutor, claiming he was illegally fired after he testified on behalf of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.

Ben Kruidbos, the former director of information technology for Corey’s office, is seeking more than $5 million in damages in the lawsuit filed in Jacksonville, according to a legal documents.

Kruidbos was fired after testifying at a pre-trial hearing on June 6 that he believed prosecutors had failed to turn over to the defense, as required by evidence-sharing laws, potentially embarrassing evidence extracted from Martin’s cell phone.

His lawyer, Wesley White, said last month that he would file a whistleblower action. This week he filed a separate complaint to the Florida Commission on Human Relations seeking whistleblower status, which could result in the second lawsuit, White said.

White said the lawsuit against Corey, which was filed on Thursday, cited a statute that makes it illegal to fire someone for their testimony when it is given under subpoena. Kruidbos was subpoenaed by the Zimmerman defense team.

“I cannot find a single other case of that statute being litigated,” said White.

“Normally people wouldn’t do something like that, fire somebody as a result of testifying pursuant to subpoena,” Said White, a former prosecutor who worked with Corey.

The action is expected to add to pressure already on Corey, who has been criticized by legal experts for unsuccessfully prosecuting Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer acquitted on July 13 of murder and manslaughter charges in the shooting death of the unarmed teen.

Zimmerman’s defense has also called for sanctions against her and her prosecution team.

Corey’s office said it would not comment on the lawsuit but re-issued Kruidbos’ termination letter, in which her office accused him of hacking confidential information from state computers.

The six-page letter, dated July 11, charged Kruidbos with “deliberate, willful and unscrupulous actions” that make him untrustworthy and “a shallow, but obvious, attempt to cloak yourself in the protection of the whistleblower law.”

Kruidbos testified last month in a pre-trial hearing that he found photos on Martin’s phone that included pictures of a pile of jewelry on a bed, underage nude females, marijuana plants, and a hand holding a semi-automatic pistol.

He said he informed the prosecutors in January, but Zimmerman’s chief defense attorney Mark O’Mara said he did not receive the material until June, shortly before the murder trial began.

The judge ruled that pictures and texts from Martin’s cell phone were inadmissible, after prosecutors argued that it could not be proven that Martin had taken the pictures and written the texts. She has yet to rule on whether the prosecution committed any violations by not handing over evidence.

(Reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou, Toni Reinhold)

[Image: State Attorney Angela Corey and her assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda (R) address the media following the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, Florida, July 13, 2013. REUTERS/Gary W. Green/Pool]

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