By Dan Tracy
Former Orlando expressway board member Scott Batterson pleaded no contest Thursday to violating the state’s public-meeting laws and agreed to pay nearly $10,000 in court costs and fines.
Batterson’s attorney, Amy Tingley, said her client wanted to “move on” from the misdemeanor charge because he faces sentencing Friday on two bribery convictions, each of which is a felony and carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
“Mr. Batterson just made the decision that he wanted this case resolved,” Tingley said after the hearing.
Batterson, 38, has been in jail since late August, when a jury found him guilty of offering a $5 million-a-year contract to an engineering consultant in exchange for hiring his friends. He was a board member of the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority at the time.
An Orange County grand jury started looking at Batterson because of the forced resignation of former expressway Director Max Crumit. He quit in October 2013 after he said Batterson told him in private that he had three votes on the five-member board to fire him.
The panel indicted not only Batterson for so-called “Government in the Sunshine” violations, but also former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, who now is a lobbyist. Former expressway board member Marco Pena earlier this year pleaded guilty to the same charge and paid a $500 fine.
The grand jury contended Batterson and Pena discussed Crumit by using Dorworth as a go-between, or conduit. State “Sunshine” laws say board matters can only be discussed in public, not privately.
Dorworth’s attorney, Richard Hornsby of Orlando, has argued that his client is being prosecuted because of politics. Dorworth is a Republican and State Attorney Jeff Ashton is a Democrat. Assistant State Attorney Richard Wallsh has denied the charge.
Batterson, clad Thursday in a blue Orange County Jail jumpsuit, has been incarcerated since Aug. 26. Though he could be sent to prison for up to 30 years, the minimum sentence is 42 months, according to court guidelines.
A civil engineer, Batterson was appointed to the expressway board by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011. Scott removed him from the board a day after his conviction.
Wallsh said Batterson was offered a deal to plead no contest shortly after he was indicted but did not accept the arrangement until Wednesday evening during a face-to-face meeting in the county jail.
“He had bigger fish to fry,” Wallsh said of the delay in Batterson’s decision.
Batterson likely will testify in court case against Dorworth, as will Pena.
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