ORLANDO, Fla.,None - There was a major blow for former Orange County Commissioner Mildred Fernandez late Monday afternoon. A judge refused to throw out several charges of public corruption against her.
The judge denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges based on the defense accusations of politically motivated selective prosecution. They accused State Attorney Lawson Lamar of politically prosecuting Fernandez. The judge said the defense did not prove its argument.
Fernandez had been in court all day hoping to prevent a trial, which starts Tuesday morning.
Fernandez, who was running for mayor of Orange County at the time of her arrest, called her arrest "politics" when she was taken into custody in April 2010. That is how she still characterizes the corruption charges against her.
Her lawyers called Lamar, whose government accountability unit is prosecuting her, to the stand to try to show he wanted her out of the race in order to help his friend, her opponent, former Commissioner Bill Segal. But Lamar testified he and Segal were at odds over Lamar's push for ethics reform.
"We're not enemies, but we disagree very, very significantly on ethics reform. I wanted it; he was against it. I spoke publicly for it; he spoke against it publicly," said Lamar during testimony Monday.
Fernandez was recorded by an undercover agent posing as a developer taking what prosecutors call illegal cash campaign contributions, $1,000 and $5,900, each said to be coming from only one person.
By law no one is allowed to donate more than $50 cash to a campaign, but the undercover agent says she wanted him to make up names and addresses so the donations would appear to be legal. He also testified that she asked for contributions in exchange for her support for what she thought was his development project.
"The defendant was promising you that she would accelerate your permitting process?" asked prosecutor Greg Tynan.
"Yes, sir," responded the undercover agent.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Prosecutors say they want to prevent the defense from making the politically motivated selective prosecution argument during the trial and to prevent the defense from calling Lamar to testify. The judge said he is inclined to agree with the prosecutors but the defense may try to argue the point Tuesday.
WFTV.com will carry the Fernandez trial live on our website as soon as opening arguments begin.
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