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    Legislative leaders ordered into court

    The four lawmakers are ordered to appear before a judge next week on charges of indirect criminal contempt.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- House Speaker Tom Feeney, Senate President John McKay and other legislative leaders have been ordered to appear in court next week and show cause why they should not be held in criminal contempt of court.

    Circuit Judge L. Ralph Smith has directed State Attorney Willie Meggs to prosecute the legislators, who are accused of violating an order Smith issued last week in a case involving collective bargaining negotiations with state employees.

    The courtroom confrontation comes amid an escalating war of words between legislators and a court system that has increasingly overturned the laws they pass.

    Smith issued his latest order Tuesday. It directs the two leaders and two committee chairmen to appear in his courtroom next Thursday and face charges of indirect criminal contempt.

    The order comes despite a state law that requires any court proceeding involving a legislator to be delayed until the legislative session is over.

    At the request of the union that represents state employees, Smith previously had issued an order enjoining legislative committees from meeting to resolve a potential impasse at the bargaining table.

    Feeney and McKay defied the order and allowed a joint committee to meet, saying it was a separation of powers issue.

    Feeney even attended the meeting, sporting a toothbrush in his coat pocket in case he had to spend a night in jail.

    On Tuesday when told of the court order, Feeney said he still has his toothbrush ready.

    The judge has directed Feeney, McKay, Sen. Rudy Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Rep. Fred Brummer, R-Apopka, to appear before him at 1 p.m. April 19.

    "I'm very concerned about the suggestion we have to have a court's permission to meet," Feeney told reporters. "No court has ever issued an order telling us where and when we can or can't meet."

    Feeney said he believes the judge may have been duped by lawyers for the state employee union who misrepresented the situation when they went to court.

    The Florida Constitution includes a clause that prohibits one branch of government from exercising any powers pertaining to the other two branches of government.

    Contacted Monday night, Meggs said he is researching the issue to determine whether legislators can be ordered into court during a session.

    "I've just been appointed, and I don't know much about it," Meggs said.

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    From the Times state desk