Democratic Palm Beach County Commissioner Jess Santamaria’s incoherent rant this week shows what little respect he has for the civil justice system and the First Amendment when a court ruling favored we, the people, over him.
During Tuesday’s commission meeting, county resident Andrew Schaller told commissioners that Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals had upheld a jury verdict in his favor involving a libel lawsuit Santamaria filed against him after both ran for the District 6 seat in 2010.
The litigious Santamaria then railed against the very same justice system he’s used to sue more than 70 times over the years.
In 2012, the jury in Schaller’s case found that he did not libel Santamaria when he submitted a Request for Inquiry to county and state officials asking, “Does Santamaria have a felony record?” The Request for Inquiry included a clerk of the court copy of a felony arrest record for someone with the same name as Santamaria. According to the court transcript, when asked under oath during the civil trial, “Where on this document does it show that this Jesus R. Santamaria is not you?” Santamaria replied, “It doesn’t.”
“I went out and did what the state of Florida charged me to do – I vetted my opponent,” Schaller told commissioners, referring to the position of the Florida Division of Elections that places the burden of research as to “whether a candidate has a criminal record…up to an opponent, the media, and/or the electorate to determine.”
“Basically, what you accomplished was you can lie about the person and hide behind freedom of speech,” Santamaria said to Schaller. “That is the stage that campaigns have already proven, that is the level of campaigning now — you can always hide under freedom of speech.”
What Santamaria doesn’t seem to understand is that free speech does have limitations. That’s why there are defamation laws. And though Santamaria carried on about candidates lying and hiding behind freedom of speech, he also doesn’t seem to respect that a jury, a lower-court judge and, now, a three-judge appellate court have all found in Schaller’s favor.
“It’s not me that won. It’s the state of Florida and everybody who lives here,” Schaller told county commissioners. “The court upheld the right of the people to ask questions and get answers [about candidates and elected officials].”
“So, what I’d like to do is, for the record, turn in all three judgments in favor of the people,” Schaller said, adding the newest court ruling to the official commission record.
Watch the exchange from Tuesday’s meeting here: