High court won't hear Childers' appeal

By a 4-2 vote, justices let stand the conviction of W.D. Childers, a former Senate president.

Published September 12, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Former Florida Senate President W.D. Childers' bribery appeal will not be heard by the state Supreme Court, which decided it lacked jurisdiction over the case in a 4-2 vote Monday.

Childers, 72, is serving a 3½-year prison term at Apalachee Correctional Institution in Sneads, about 45 miles west of Tallahassee, where he once was one of the state's most powerful legislators.

The Pensacola Republican, forced out of the Senate by term limits in 2000, then was elected as an Escambia County commissioner. Childers was convicted of bribing a fellow commissioner to vote for the purchase of a defunct soccer complex in 2001.

He reported to prison July 31 after the 1st District Court of Appeal refused to reverse his conviction.

Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis and Justice Raoul Cantero dissented from the order denying Childers' petition for review. Justice Kenneth Bell recused himself.

Childers' lawyer, Nathan Dershowitz, said no decision had been made whether to pursue other potential avenues of appeal.

He had argued that the appellate court abused its discretion by letting the full court consider the case instead of a three-judge panel. The decision violated a judicial rule allowing full-court hearings only for cases of exceptional importance or to maintain a uniformity of opinions, Dershowitz wrote.

A three-judge appellate panel had been set to reverse Childers' conviction 2-1, but the full court instead voted 10-4 to let the conviction stand. A followup opinion, also 10-4, rejected Childers' argument that the full-court hearing was improper.

Childers was convicted of bribing Commissioner Willie Junior, who testified that he received a cooking pot full of cash from his colleague.

Junior separately faced a series of corruption charges. He pleaded no contest and agreed to testify against Childers and other defendants in exchange for a sentence of no more than 18 months.

Before sentencing, though, he committed suicide by drinking antifreeze, a medical examiner concluded.