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In January of 2011, a lawsuit was filed against me alleging that I libeled an individual during the 2010 race for County Commission,  District 6. I became the 78th person or entity involved in a lawsuit with the Plaintiff. A jury trial lasting three days took place April 2,3,4, 2012. The six person jury took about one hour of deliberation time, about the shortest amount of time in which a jury can reach a decision and follow legal procedures, to come to a verdict in favor of me and I won the suit.

The Plaintiff was not happy with this decision and filed a motion arguing the judge should overrule the jury’s decision.  The judge denied the motion without even waiting for a legal response from my attorney. The result was the verdict was upheld again and I won again.

Still not satisfied with the jury verdict and the judge’s ruling in my favor, the Plaintiff filed an appeal with Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals. In 2013, the three judge panel affirmed the lower court’s ruling and jury verdict and I won the third time.

During the trial I called no witnesses and spoke for about an hour out of the three day event. The Plaintiff listed witnesses including: The County Administrator, The County Engineer, The Deputy County Engineer, The Assistant County Engineer, a County Commissioner Aide, a former County Commissioner Aide, a former political opponent in the 2010 commission race, his wife, his daughter and an actor to “play Me” on the witness stand and read excerpts from my legal deposition..

The logic behind calling all of the County employees was to try and convince the jury that I had malicious intentions towards the plaintiff stemming from a County road paving project. The entire 3-4 year road project file was entered into the court record as evidence. No testimony given by the County past and present employees supported this claim.

Despite all of the courtroom theatrics including tears from the Plaintiff and the actor’s impersonation of me, (a man I have never met before nor have ever seen since),  the expenditure of, in my estimation, $300,000 by the Plaintiff to try and teach me a lesson, the jury upheld our Constitutional First Amendment of Freedom of Speech.  A jury of our peers unanimously saw this sham for what it was and ruled accordingly. This decision was also unanimously supported by the Circuit Court judge who presided over the trial and by the three judge appeals panel who upheld the lower court ruling.

(An interesting note to this story is that the Plaintiff is a sitting county commissioner who has voted for each and every motion, to the best of my knowledge, that has been made to improve the road in question and the project continues to move forward with unanimous support from the Board of County Commissioners.)

All of the depositions and trial transcripts in this case are located in the tabs above for educational purposes.

Documents relating to this trial:

JudgementSchaller ltr

 

PBC commissioner’s confused First Amendment rant

May 9, 2013 by Janeen Capizola

In 2012, the jury in Schaller’s case found that he did not libel Santamaria when he submitted a Request for Inquiry to county and state officials asking, “Does Santamaria have a felony record?” The Request for Inquiry included a clerk of the court copy of a felony arrest record for someone with the same name as Santamaria.

According to the court transcript, when asked under oath during the civil trial, “Where on this document does it show that this Jesus R. Santamaria is not you?” Santamaria replied, “It doesn’t.”

“I went out and did what the state of Florida charged me to do – I vetted my opponent,” Schaller told commissioners, referring to the position of the Florida Division of Elections that places the burden of research as to “whether a candidate has a criminal record…up to an opponent, the media, and/or the electorate to determine.”

“It’s not me that won. It’s the state of Florida and everybody who lives here,” Schaller told county commissioners. “The court upheld the right of the people to ask questions and get answers [about candidates and elected officials].”

 

Read More: PBC commissioner’s confused First Amendment rant

 

 

Jury finds Santamaria not defamed by political opponent

Updated: 8:04 p.m. Wednesday, April 4, 2012 | Posted: 6:50 p.m. Wednesday, April 4, 2012 By Jane Musgrave

Reaching out to Santamaria, Schaller asked: “Can we put it aside?”

Santamaria responded quickly. “No,” he said, refusing to shake his onetime political opponent’s hand.

After about an hour of deliberations, the jury of three men and three women agreed that Schaller falsely accused Santamaria of being a convicted felon based on a 1991 court record of an unrelated Jesus R. Santamaria. However, they found, he hadn’t acted with malice.

That meant Schaller hadn’t knowingly made a false statement and that Santamaria wasn’t entitled to damages.

“I didn’t win,” Schaller said. “America, free speech and the Constitution won today.”

Read More: Jury finds Santamaria not defamed by political opponent

 

 

County Commissioner Santamaria sues defeated rival Schaller, alleging campaign libel

Updated: 5:34 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10, 2011 | Posted: 5:33 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10, 2011 By Jennifer Sorentrue

Schaller on Monday said the lawsuit was “retaliation” for Steckler’s finding. The inquiry request included 10 questions, but Santamaria’s suit focuses on just one, Schaller said.

“I have nothing against Jess Santamaria as a person,” Schaller said. “I ran against a person holding office because I knew I could do a better job.”

Schaller said he found the criminal document while searching Santamaria’s name on the clerk and comptroller’s website.

“I had no way of knowing it was him,” Schaller said. “It is like asking whether President Obama has a legal birth certificate.”

After releasing his inquiry request, Schaller said Santamaria’s daughter, a local attorney, provided him with additional documentation to show Jesus R. Santamaria was not her father. Within days, Schaller said he went on a local radio show to clear up the issue.

“I said I’m glad to know that it is not Commissioner Santamaria,” Schaller said. “Nobody wants to think that there are a bunch of crooks running whatever government.”

Read More:County Commissioner Santamaria sues defeated rival Schaller, alleging campaign libel

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