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Bateman v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

December 20, 2017

Steven Bateman, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
The State of Florida, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         Appeals from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower Tribunal No. 13-20190, Robert J. Luck, Judge.

          Kuehne Davis Law, P.A. and Benedict P. Kuehne and Michael T. Davis, for appellant/cross-appellee.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Jonathan Tanoos, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee/cross-appellant.

          Before SUAREZ, EMAS, and LOGUE, JJ.

          SUAREZ, J.

         Steven Bateman ("Bateman"), appeals from a final order denying in part and granting in part his motion for judgment of acquittal. The State of Florida cross- appeals from that part of the trial court's order granting Bateman's motion for judgment of acquittal on Count 1. We affirm in all respects.

         Bateman was the subject of a grand jury indictment which arose out of a Miami-Dade County ethics investigation into his actions while Mayor of Homestead. Bateman was investigated for attempting to persuade Miami-Dade County to approve and expedite the permitting process for a new pumping station in Homestead without disclosing that he was being paid by a private company that wanted the permitting expedited. The five-count grand jury indictment charged Bateman with unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior by a public servant, unlawful compensation for exerting influence, exploitation of his official position, acquiring a financial interest in conflict with his official position, and illegal lobbying.

         The story begins with Community Health of South Florida ("CHI"), a nonprofit organization that wished to build a children's crisis center in Homestead. The new building was to be constructed on an empty lot owned by CHI. The new building was required to be connected to one of the City's sewer pump stations. But the pump station adjacent to the CHI-owned lot was over forty years old, had cracks in it, could not properly handle any new connections, and was subject to an EPA moratorium on any new connections. Miami-Dade's Department of Environmental Resources Management ("DERM") would thus not issue a permit until the City upgraded the pump, despite CHI's securing funding from the County for the crisis center project. Without the permit CHI could not construct the center on the property it owned. The pump station issue had been before the Homestead City Council long before Bateman was hired by CHI, and Homestead had approved money to upgrade the station in 2012. The problem was that the pump station permit approval process through DERM and the County was taking too long and CHI wanted the process expedited so construction could begin.

         Testimony at trial was that Bateman, then Mayor of Homestead, contacted CHI, met with its principals and entered into a consulting agreement to act as a private consultant to advise and assist CHI with its expansion and multiple construction projects. After Bateman was hired by CHI, he frequently consulted with the City's public works director to discuss the status of the pump station in his capacity as Mayor of the City of Homestead, but did not disclose he was also acting as a consultant for CHI on that project. Bateman's problems escalated when he arranged and attended a meeting with the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Deputy County Mayor during which he discussed the status of the pumping station and his concern with DERM's delay in approving and issuing the needed permits. He asked the County to expedite the permitting process. Bateman had a follow-up conversation with the Deputy County Mayor on the subject. During those interactions and meetings, Bateman presented himself as appearing in his capacity as Mayor of Homestead and did not disclose his contractual relationship with CHI or that CHI had an interest in the permitting process being expedited. Furthermore, despite being legally required to do so, Bateman never registered as a lobbyist for CHI. Bateman then billed CHI for eight hours, representing the two meetings with the County Mayor and Deputy Mayor and for meeting with the Homestead city engineer to prepare for the county meeting. Two days later, he billed CHI for six hours representing a phone conference with the County Deputy Mayor and the Homestead city engineer.

         Subsequent to the ethics committee's investigation into his actions, the Grand Jury rendered a five-count indictment charging Bateman with Count 1, unlawful compensation for official behavior in violation of section 838.016(1), Florida Statutes (2013); Count 2, unlawful compensation for exerting influence in violation of section 838.016(2), Florida Statutes (2013); Count 3, exploitation of official position in violation of section 125.69, Florida Statutes, (2013), and Miami-Dade County Code 2-11.1(g); Count 4, acquiring a financial interest in conflict with official actions, in violation of section 125.69, Florida Statutes (2013), and Miami-Dade County Code 2-11.1(o); Count 5, illegal lobbying in violation of section 125.69, Florida Statutes, (2013) and Miami-Dade County Code 2-11.1(s). The State dismissed Count 3 (exploitation of official position) and Bateman went to trial on the remaining counts. The jury found him guilty of Count 1 (unlawful compensation for official behavior), Count 2 (unlawful compensation for exerting influence), and Count 5 (illegal lobbying) and acquitted him of count 4 (acquiring a financial interest in conflict with official actions). On a post-verdict motion for new trial and judgment of acquittal on all counts, the trial court denied Bateman's motion for new trial, granted judgment of acquittal on Count 1 and denied acquittal on Counts 2 and 5. The State sought rehearing of the acquittal on Count 1, which was denied. The court sentenced Bateman to twenty-two (22) months on Count 2 and sixty (60) days on Count 5, to run concurrently. Bateman appeals from the final order denying in part and granting in part his motion for judgment of acquittal and the State cross-appeals from that part of the trial court's order granting Bateman's motion for judgment of acquittal on Count 1. We affirm in all respects.

         COUNT 1. The State cross-appeals the trial court's grant of judgment of acquittal on Count 1, unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior in violation of section 838.016(1), Florida Statutes (2013).[1] Our standard for reviewing a motion for judgment of acquittal is de novo. Reynolds v. State, 934 So.2d 1128, 1145 (Fla. 2006).

         Subsection (1) of this statute makes it unlawful for a public official to corruptly[2] represent that some present or future act is within his or her official authority to accomplish and then agree to perform that act in exchange for pecuniary gain. Bateman asserted in his motion for judgment of acquittal that the State had not presented sufficient evidence that he acted corruptly when he entered into the consulting contract with CHI, and that he represented to CHI that his actions on its behalf were within his official discretion or in performance of a public duty. The trial court in its detailed order granting acquittal of this count examined the evidence presented, thoroughly parsed the statute, and delineated exactly what the State was required to prove based on section 838.016(1) and the Florida Standard Jury Instruction (Criminal) 19.4.

         In granting acquittal, the trial court determined that the State did not present evidence such that a rational trier of fact could find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Bateman represented to CHI that obtaining the necessary permit was within his official discretion or public duty to perform, or that there was any evidence from which the jury could reasonably conclude that Bateman represented that he would "sell his vote or twist the City staff's arm to approve the water pump." In other words, there was no evidence from which a reasonable trier of fact could determine that Bateman represented to CHI that obtaining the permit was within his power as Mayor to accomplish. We have similarly examined the record and conclude that the State did not present evidence that Bateman's acts, in his capacity as Mayor, were the kind of official discretionary or duty bound acts that fell within the proscriptions of section 838.016(1), i.e., that Bateman represented to CHI that he had the official discretion ...


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