Sheriff asks appellate court to throw out Chief Judge’s order to create unlawful gun free zones

Lee’s note: I just wrote this for the paper. Click here to read the entire story.

SARASOTA — In a voluminous 70-page motion, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight has asked the Florida Second District Court of Appeals to “quash all unlawful portions” of an administrative order he received from Chief Judge Charles Williams.

The petition for writ of certiorari, which was served on Williams last week, is the latest round of an ongoing constitutional feud between the executive branch — in this case, Sheriff Knight — and the judiciary — represented by Chief Judge Williams.

At issue is the sheriff’s decision to pull his deputies from security screening stations at non-courtroom facilities operated by the court — a move recommended by the sheriff’s legal advisers, who said the practice could expose deputies to severe sanctions under Florida’s preemption statute, which allows only the Florida Legislature to regulate firearms.

Judge Williams ordered the sheriff to return the deputies to the screening stations and imposed a deadline. Knight refused to comply, and in his response told the chief judge that he would seek an opinion from the appellate court.

Last week, rather than taking any action for the sheriff’s refusal to the order, Williams said through a spokesman that he “respects the right of the sheriff to take this action and will let this matter take its proper legal course.”

In the petition, Knight’s legal team argues that the judge’s order violates “the doctrine of separation of powers because it attempts to regulate how the Petitioner (Sheriff Knight) performs discretionary executive functions outside of the courtroom.”

The Sheriff further argues that providing security beyond what is required by law is “discretionary,” and that ordering the sheriff to provide “discretionary executive functions” in court-operated buildings where no court occurs is “not authorized by law and violates the doctrine of separation of powers.”

Chief Judge Williams declined to comment for this story.

Court spokesman Dennis Menendez cited the “Canon of the Code of Judicial Conduct,” which he said prevents Williams “from commenting on the pending Writ of Certiorari.”

“As stated earlier, the 12th Circuit respects the right of the Sheriff to seek legal redress on this matter and we will allow the legal process to continue on its proper legal course,” Menendez said in an email. “Judge Williams will wait for the Appellate Court’s decision and issue an appropriate response at that time.”

Constitutional officer

The sheriff’s motion chronicles how the impasse began when Florida Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, tried to enter the “Sarasota Historic Courthouse” on Main Street with a concealed weapon. That structure contains the Clerk of Court’s office, a cafe and a historic courtroom “that has not been used for court purposes whatsoever for several years,” the petition states.

Private security guards and a sheriff’s deputy denied Steube access. He later complained to Knight in an email an hour after the encounter. “I informed the security guard that I had a concealed carry permit and was licensed to carry,” Steube wrote. “The agent said that it was a government building and I was not permitted to carry weapons.”

Citing Florida Statute 790.06, Steube explained to the guard and deputy that “government buildings” are not considered “gun free zones” according to the law.

Knight and his general counsel Chief Deputy Col. Kurt Hoffman conducted a review of their security practices. Concerned about their exposure to 790.06, “for conducting suspicionless screenings for firearms and weapons in court facility areas where court does not actually occur,” the sheriff pulled his deputies from the screening stations.

In the petition, the sheriff seeks to have the appellate court quash much of the language in the chief judge’s order, specifically that the Sheriff shall provide security in “court facilities,” rather than actual courtrooms.

Knight’s legal team argues that the order requires them to depart “from the essential requirements of law because it mandates singularly, exclusively and without the Petitioner’s consent that the Petitioner perform discretionary executive branch functions, in this case to provide security, to certain court facility areas well beyond what the Petitioner is statutorily required to provide in areas where no actual court occurs in violation of the separation of powers and in a manner that potentially exposes the Petitioner and the Petitioner’s employees to injury, in this case personal liability.”

Violations of the preemption statute by a public official can lead to $5,000 fines and other costs, which the official must pay themselves. If the offender is an elected official, they can be removed from office.

The petition points out that the office of sheriff has “a special and longstanding status, powers, and duties as well as a firm statutory and Constitutional standing.”

“The office of the sheriff is an ancient one, dating back to at least to the time of Alfred, King of England, and the holder thereof has always been the chief executive officer and conservator of the peace in his shire of county,” the petition states.

Click here to read the entire story.

— Senior investigative reporter Lee Williams, The Gun Writer, can be reached at 941-284-8553, by email atlee.williams@heraldtribune.com or lee@TheGunWriter.com, or by regular mail, 1777 Main St., Sarasota, 34236. You also can follow him on social media at facebook.com/TheGunWriter or Twitter.com/ht_gunwriter.

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About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

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