OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - The race for a judge's bench in Osceola County took an ugly turn recently when one candidate accused the other of lying about being arrested more than 30 years ago.
Candidate Gino Feliciani, who is a Seminole County prosecutor, told Channel 9 he doesn't believe he had an obligation to disclose his 1981 burglary arrest.
Feliciani said the arrest was sealed after he served his sentence, so legally, he can deny it ever happened.
However, WFTV's legal and political analysts said ethically, Feliciani should have disclosed the information.
The campaign of Feliciani's opponent, Osceola Circuit Judge Scott Polodna, emailed supporters that Feliciani's arrest came to light as they vied for a newspaper endorsement.
The email said that when asked, Feliciani first denied ever having been arrested but that once he was confronted, he admitted to a 1981 burglary arrest, entering a plea and serving probation.
Feliciani would only talk to Channel 9 over the phone and would not disclose details but said it was 33 years ago when he was 20 years old. Feliciani said he did what he was supposed to do and had the record sealed.
WFTV political analyst Rick Fogelsong said the Florida Supreme Court's Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits candidates from misrepresenting facts, and it obligated Feliciani to disclose his arrest.
"A sealed arrest record is nonetheless an arrest record," said Foglesong. "He should acknowledge that and I think probably unseal the record, which he can do."
Foglesong said Feliciani could still use his arrest to demonstrate how he's learned from his mistake.
WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer also believes Feliciani should have been upfront, since he's seeking such a powerful office.
"Certainly the sum total of what a judge's life experience has been will dictate perhaps how they rule," said Sheaffer.
Feliciani told Channel 9 he's distressed that his arrest is out but now that it is, voters will judge whether it should keep him off the bench.