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ORLANDO-The $6.2 million land deals Escambia County did last year with a friend of suspended county commissioner and longtime real estate investor W.D. Childers continue to haunt the former president of the Florida Senate.

But in a strategic legal move this week, the 68-year-old politician pleaded no contest to a second Sunshine Law violation involving pre-public meeting talks with other commissioners on $6.2 million of land deals the county was negotiating last year.

Although the no-contest plea goes down as a second Sunshine Law conviction, the two convictions will be appealed together by Childers’ lawyers to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, FL.

Childers’ lawyers will argue Florida’s Sunshine Law doesn’t specify if a commissioner’s opinions on a public property issue are actually a violation, real estate lawyers intimate with the case tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

Okaloosa County Judge T. Paterson Maney, who has delayed sentencing Childers until more serious bribery charges are heard in March, agrees the law is unclear and needs clarification from the appellate court, according to a published report.

But Maney has ruled private comments by public officials in front of other elected officials on pending transactions are illegal. Childers’ lawyers disagree.

On the felony charges, Childers is accused of bribing suspended fellow commissioner Willie Junior, a funeral parlor operator, with $90,000 for his vote on a $3.2 million tract the county was considering buying for a 48-acre soccer field/stadium and a $2.3 million purchase of a former auto dealership property for eventual use as an office building or vehicle parking area for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department.

On the Sunshine Law charges, Childers could receive a maximum jail sentence of 60 days, a $500 fine and court costs. On the bribery counts, however, if convicted the politician faces a maximum 20-year sentence and a $20,000 fine.

In June, a jury in Pensacola convicted Childers of the first Sunshine violation, acquitted him on two other counts and deadlocked on a fourth charge. The fourth count was scheduled to be heard Oct. 9 just before Childers pleaded no contest, avoiding a second trial.

Real estate lawyers in Orlando and Tallahassee following the case tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity the legal issues will drag on for at least five years with Childers eventually being cleared.

Terry Smith, another suspended commissioner involved in the Childers episode, was convicted and sentenced to community service and $5,000 in fines but no jail time. Ex-commissioners Junior and Mike Bass pleaded no contest to the Sunshine Law violations and are awaiting sentencing.

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