OCALA, Fla., August 6, 2013 — A former prosecutor under Angela Corey has fired a wrongful termination suit against her on behalf of the whistleblower Corey fired during George Zimmerman’s trial.
Wesley White is extremely familiar with Angela Corey.
At 10:19 a.m. on December 5 of last year, Nassau County, Florida prosecutor Wesley White sent a message that would mark the end of his career in Angela Corey’s office, and the beginning of something entirely different.
“Dear Angela: “A formal and appropriate letter will be forthcoming but I didn’t want to leave you or Rich in a lurch,” he began.
“I no longer seek or will accept re-appointment to the Office of the State Attorney for your second term. Given the few days left of my service, realistically I would not be able to effectively pursue any matters with the City of Jacksonville.
“I will work diligently to clear pending matters on my desk and, as always, I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve the fine people of Nassau County.”
That afternoon, Bernie de la Rionda replied that “(i)nasmuch as Ms. Corey is out for a funeral, I am responding on her behalf to your email, below.
“She accepts your resignation and looks forward to having a continuing professional working relationship with you.
“For planning purposes, we need to announce your departure from the State Attorney’s Office and immediately begin planning for staffing needs created by your intention to move in a new direction in your career.
“Please forward your supplemental resignation letter at your earliest opportunity so that we can continue to move forward and make a seamless transition.”
Fast forward to this July. Corey and de la Rionda had just failed to convict George Zimmerman of any legal wrongdoing in the death of Trayvon Martin.
In spite of the not guilty verdict, the prosecutors sat for an interview on national television in which Corey derided Zimmerman as a “murderer” to de la Rionda’s agreement.
White was not pleased. “You and Mr. de la Rionda have violated your oaths of office and denigrated the very Constitution you swore to uphold and defend. You have assailed and undermined both the right to trial by jury and the finality and dignity associated with a jury verdict,” he said in a letter to his former boss.
“For you to label George Zimmerman, an acquitted defendant, as a ‘murderer’ at this juncture is reprehensible and irresponsible, can only breed contempt for our system of justice and the rule of law, and may very well lead to civil unrest. For Mr. de la Rionda, to suggest that exercising one’s 5th Amendment privilege lacks courage (by not testifying as a defendant in a criminal trial) belittles and demeans a sacred constitutional right.
“It is time for you both to step down before you further embarass the Bar and the people of the 4th Circuit, and before you are removed from office.”
These are strong words by any standard. What came next, though, was of far greater importance. White, now representing Ben Kruidbos, the former information technology director in Corey’s office, filed a $5 million-plus wrongful termination lawsuit against her.
“Contrary to the provisions of Florida Statutes 112.3187, Mr. Kruidbos was the victim of retaliatory action by the SAO … when he was terminated from employment,” White claims in a formal complaint with the Florida Human Relations Commission.
“Mr. Kruidbos was terminated for having testified (pursuant to a subpoena) before the circuit court in and for Seminole County … on June 6, 2013. “The nature of his testimony related to the possible knowing violation, by the State of Florida (the SAO), of its reciprocal discovery obligations … in a criminal prosecution. Such a violation falls within the inherent authority of the circuit court to sanction the conduct and actions of parties and attorneys before the court.
“The letter terminating Mr. Kruidbos makes explicit reference to his testimony of June 6th … Prior to his testimony, he was a well-regarded employee, recently received a raise, and was considered a “friend” by the State Attorney. But for his testimony he would still be employed.”
Kruidbos’s testimony pertained to data found on a cellular phone used by Martin, including images of marijuana, the teen blowing smoke, as well as him gripping a firearm. The prosecution should have made this information available to the defense in a reasonable timeframe, but it did not.
Exactly how the civil charges brought against Corey will stand in court remains a mystery.
Something that White mentioned in his farewell email to her, though, does seem pertinent: “I wish to gently and respectfully remind you that you and your administration will be judged more by the promises that you keep than by your victories and defeats.”
Corey has long based her professional appeal on the concept of justice. Whether or not her legacy will have anything to do with jurisprudence is another matter entirely.
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