Florida activist, candidate charged with felony wiretapping
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Tuesday October 17, 2006
The State of Florida has filed felony wiretapping charges against election reform activist Charles Grapski for audiotaping his efforts to obtain public records related to his investigation of alleged election fraud, RAW STORY has learned. He faces arraignment Tuesday, October 17th.
"The State has held charges over my head since May 1st, six months," Grapski told RAW STORY. "I have not been allowed until now the right of subpoena power to do discovery in my own defense. Now the State is saying I must choose between two rights: the right to a speedy trial, and my right to a fair trial."
RAW STORY has previously reported on officials' attempts to suppress Grapski's investigation and that Grapski was later banned by a judge from campaigning in the City of Alachua.
Grapski, a Democrat, said he dropped out of his bid to win election to the House of Representatives due to the unresolved threat of legal challenges and the judicial ban, which made it impossible for him to campaign in his district. He endorsed Democrat Chuck Chestnut IV, who won the primary race.
"This is such a severe case of silencing and a violation of the First Amendment," said Carol Thomas, co-coordinator of Grapski's defense committee, along with Scott Doran. "He has been as effectively banned as any black person in South Africa during Apartheid. He is not able to contact any officials by snail mail, fax, telephone, e-mail, or even a third party person."
Grapski is charged with felony wiretapping for making an audiotape of his efforts to obtain documents at City Hall. Those documents related to a lawsuit alleging fraud in the canvassing of absentee ballots in the election of Commissioner James A. Lewis, who won by 18 absentee votes.
"This is not the first time that sitting Commissioners who are candidates for an election have won by absentee votes. This seems to be a chronic problem here and nobody takes it seriously," Thomas said. "Suddenly absentee ballots disappear. It's outrageous."
Grapski audiotaped City Manager Clovis Watson, who commented on the fact that he was being taped, consented, and kept talking, Thomas noted. Subsequently Watson, who also serves as Police Commissioner (an apparent violation of Florida law that prohibits officials from holding more than one public office at a time), ordered Grapski arrested.
"He didn't do anything a newspaper reporter doesn't do every day. It's absurd," Thomas said. "While he was being arrested, the editor of a newspaper was in there audiotaping this." A third person, Green Party representative Michael Canney, was also present making audiotapes. Canney and Grapski have been threatened with additional charges, but the newspaper editor has not, Thomas said.
Representatives from the office of Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist were not available for comment.
"This is why I did record the meeting," Grapski said. "When public officials lie, the only thing that proves wrongdoing is the very tape the state has had in its possession since this issue began."
He added, "If I don't exercise my right to a speedy trial, they can hold this over me for several years. But if we demand speedy trial, we have a window of a week to act." The trial would then take place around Thanksgiving, he said, adding, "We are determined to get this over as quickly as possible."
The key obstacle is money. "We have to raise $40,000 this week in order for a speedy trial to occur," Thomas revealed. "We are trying to get together a nationwide defense fund.
The Charles Grapski Legal Defense fund may be reached c/o Carol Thomas at P.O. Box 190, Alachua, FL 32616-0190.