A state trooper who said he was "trying to be nice" stopped a state legislator for speeding. But instead of writing Rep. Charles McBurney a $250 speeding ticket, the trooper offered him a much less expensive alternative: a $10 fine for not having proof of insurance.
McBurney said he was not speeding and that he did have proof of insurance, which Trooper Charles Swindle didnt request. Outraged by the trooper's conduct, the lawmaker promptly complained to Col. David Brierton, the head of the Florida Highway Patrol, and last week the FHP fired Swindle for violating department rules.
Swindle is appealing the firing, claiming the patrol has a long-running "quid pro quo" policy of not issuing traffic tickets to legislators. Swindle's lawyer, Sidney Matthew of Tallahassee, argues in a legal challenge of the trooper's firing that before offering McBurney the cheaper option of a $10 fine, he notified his superior, Sgt. Gary Dawson, who OK'd the action.
"This stinks," Matthew said. "FHP can't have it both ways, with a policy of discretion to cut breaks to legislators who are speeding and then turn around and fire them."
"That's horse hockey," said Julie Jones, executive director of the patrol's parent agency, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. "There is no policy that says we give anybody a free pass because they're elected officials." The agency is compiling records to show that nearly a dozen state lawmakers have been cited for speeding or other moving violations in recent months.
The McBurney incident happened on the morning of last Nov. 19 as he and his wife Deborah were driving from Jacksonville to Tallahassee for the one-day organizational session of the Legislature. McBurney, a former assistant state attorney, was driving a black Toyota with a distinctive state legislator specialty license plate when he was pulled over in Madison.
"I didn’t think that what he did was proper," McBurney said. "I didn’t think that was the way he should have acted towards me, or anyone else for that matter. I felt obligated to write the letter. My concern was, if he did that to me, he would do that to anybody."
-- Steve Bousquet