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Gerald Bailey, Rick Scott and Everybody's Whipping Boy -- Willie Meggs

January 30, 2015 - 6:00pm

In England they'd say Willie Meggs has the luck of a pox doctor's clerk. Which is really, really unlucky. You would never want to be a pox doctor's clerk.

It means he can't win.


For the second time in 15 months, the Tallahassee state attorney is a key player in a high-profile case -- a should-be case, if you listen to a brickbat-armed-and-ready media.

It's a pox-doctor's-clerk-of-a-case that can bring him nothing but grief.

In November 2013 it was Jameis Winston; in January 2015 it's Gov. Rick Scott.

In 2013he would've been on a loser no matter what -- if he'd charged wonder-quarterback Winston with sexual assault or if he didn't.

Meggs, 71, a former high school football official, is a Tallahassee boy. It's his hometown.Whether the Seminoles' incredible season would continue depended on him. Try to imagine. No matter what opinions you or I might have of Winston, criminal charges against the Seminoles' celebrated quarterback would have made Meggs the most unpopular man in his hometown since Steve Spurrier walked out on the Florida Gators.

Now here he is again in 2015 -- under siege by a Tallahassee media baring teeth and calling for blood, wanting to hear him say he will investigate the governor of Florida and the three elected members of the Cabinet for a violation of the Sunshine Law -- and who knows, maybe other crimes. All swirling around the forced resignation of Gerald Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

One of the problems is, Bailey isn't talking to Meggs about his allegations. Not a word. He would only do his talking to Times/Herald reporters.

Meggs said he received a letter of complaint from St. Petersburg attorney Matthew Weidner. He said he told Weidner if he could show him evidence or offer information other than newspaper stories that the governor and Cabinet had broken the Sunshine Law and/or any other law, he would investigate.

Meggs is taking the heat, but Bailey isn't helping. The former commissioner opened a can of worms and now tells other reporters he's moved on with his life and wants to end all talk of the circumstances of his departure. He apparently won't be making a complaint to Meggs himself.

Could that be, I wonder, because he waited until he was fired to blow the whistle on misconduct in the governor's office? If Bailey hadn't been fired, if he had just been allowed to retire when he and not the governor and Cabinet decided, would he have told anyone the governor's officetried to get him to falsely name someone a "target" in a criminal case? Or hire political allies for state jobs? Or intercede in an outside investigation of a prospective Scott appointee?

And Scott's office is categorically denying wrongdoing but, in trademark fashion, offers little in the way of explanation.

Earlier in the month Meggs and his wife had dinner at the governor's mansion with Rick and Ann Scott. And while the couples might not be close, Meggs has made no secret of the fact that he's a Democrat who voted for Scott in November. On top of that, Meggs and Scott's former general counsel Peter Antonacci, the staffer who according to the Times/Herald told Bailey to retire or resign, have been friends for some 35 years. Antonacci is a former Leon County prosecutor.

Meggs has neither the stomach nor the heart for this. "If there is a violation, it looks like the entire Cabinet should be arrested," he said, indicating little likelihood an investigation will ever happen.

So now everybody gets to bring up any case Meggs ever prosecuted or didn't prosecute or handled ineffectively or downright blew -- whatever bone they had to pick with one of his decisions, here they come now, popping up on the Internet like prairie dogs in Dakota bluegrass.

It's Jameis Winston all over again for Willie Meggs, who still must remember those who pointed to his FSU law degree and accused him of being "just another jock-sniffing law enforcement official in a college football town." The media leaned on him in November 2013, they're doing the same again.

According to the Times/Herald, Meggs said, "If it wasn't for the media, this (Bailey investigation) would be a dead duck."

That's probably true.

But I feel compelled to admit I'm glad it's not dead. The public's right to access is a very big deal. If officials aren't going to honor it, they are not honoring the law that governs us as Floridians and are not worthy of the citizens they represent.

Baileygate has shamed Cabinet members Jeff Atwater, Adam Putnam and Pam Bondi. You could hear it in their voices when they spoke at Wednesday's AP meeting -- and it wasn't just politics. Office procedures and adherence to transparency have grown slack on their watch. They said as much and seem committed to making changes. I believe they will -- we'll see during Thursday's Cabinet meeting.

I would have thought the governor had taken enough of a beating on his "flawed character" during the last two gubernatorial campaigns. Surely he wants to be open about what happened in the Bailey case -- and in other dismissals where Cabinet approval is required but didn't happen properly. Doesn't he? Surely he wants to be seen to do the right thing on Thursday.

Time to back off Willie Meggs and -- if Baileygate is to continue past the Cabinet meeting -- go for an independent investigator. One thing I found out about local prosecutors a year ago, when I hoped somebody would investigate Charlie Crist: We shouldn't put a state attorney on a hook like this. It's too big for him.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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