February 8, 2003
SHALIMAR -- A judge on Friday decided to move the bribery and money laundering trial of suspended Escambia County Commissioner W.D. Childers from Pensacola.
The judge also ordered a hospital to turn over medical records of the state's star witness, another suspended commissioner.
Circuit Judge Jere Tolton of Okaloosa County ruled that extensive media coverage in Escambia County makes it unlikely that Childers, a former Florida Senate president, can get a fair trial there. Tolton said he will announce on Feb. 19 where the case will be tried.
The trial is set for March 31, but that also could change because of Willie Junior's illness.
Tolton gave Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola until noon Wednesday to let him have Junior's medical records. The suspended commissioner was rushed to the hospital in critical condition Tuesday after his wife couldn't rouse him. His condition has improved to fair.
Sacred Heart has declined to release information on Junior's illness at the request of his family.
Childers' lawyer, Richard Lubin, asked for the hospital records to determine if the illness was genuine and how soon the defense can do a pretrial interview with Junior. Junior has admitted he accepted a bribe from Childers to vote for the county's $3.9-million purchase of a former soccer complex.
Tolton said he would review the records in private and pass on relevant information to prosecutors and defense lawyers but require them to keep it confidential.