One strike and you're out, for a bit

Shortly after Robin Wilkinson got her job with the State Attorney's Office back on Oct. 15, I received a call from an attorney who used to work in the same office. He was more than a little miffed about the fact that Wilkinson, who was arrested for drunk driving July 25, and pleaded guilty to the charge Sept. 8, got her job back when management had made it abundantly clear to him that breaking the law is a ticket out the door for any state attorney.

"Everyone who is hired is told, 'You will be fired and there is no need to worry about coming back to work for us if you break the law,'" says the attorney, who asked that his name not be used.

This is as it should be. Prosecutors in the State Attorney's Office are law-enforcement officers, and as such, they are held to high standards of conduct. Most of them are extremely conscious of the fact that if they screw up, their jobs are on the line. "I know young prosecutors who, if they have a drink or two, will take a cab home for fear of losing their job," says the attorney. "I've never known any person who has gotten in trouble and been hired back."

Neither has Randy Means, the State Attorney's Office spokesman. In his 15-year career, he couldn't recall anyone there ever being arrested for a DUI or any other crime, let alone being rehired afterward. "We just haven't had it come up."

Contrary to what my source told me, Means says there is no blanket policy stating that if a prosecutor gets busted, they're gone. Instead, there is a disciplinary progression, which starts with a verbal reprimand and ends with a sacking.

There is one thing that that will get you to the top of that ladder quickly, says Means. "No felonies are going to remain here."

The attorney who called me notes that Wilkinson could, conceivably, be called on to prosecute DUI cases. "Somebody on probation is going to be handling cases? That puts [the State Attorney's Office] in an interesting spot. I don't know how morally or ethically she can do it."

What would a group like Mothers Against Drunk Driving think about all this, the aforementioned source wonders. Yolanda Larson, executive director of the Central Florida chapter, whose job it is to get outraged about such things, seems nonplussed about the situation. "It's not up to MADD to decide Ms. Wilkinson's career," she says. "It is up to her and the legal system to decide where her career will go."

Adds Larson: "She'd be welcome to do volunteer work at our chapter."

More reason to hate Progress

As if Progress Energy's slimy (yet unsuccessful) campaign to scare the bejesus out of Winter Park residents so the Raleigh, N.C.-based energy giant wouldn't get booted out of the city, Time magazine now brings yet another reason to revile the company.

An Oct. 13 story by the fabled investigative reporting team of Donald Barlett and James Steele revealed that Progress Energy helped itself to $897 million in tax credits for producing synthetic coal that, umm, really isn't very synthetic. In reality, it looks (and burns) strikingly similar to the real stuff.

Under a federal program designed to decrease the country's reliance on foreign oil, companies that produce synthetic fuels are eligible for whopping tax incentives. All they have to do to get the break is modify the chemical composition of coal. Spray a little diesel fuel or pine-tar resin on the coal, and you're good to go. Barlett and Steele call the scam "spray and pray" (that nobody looks too closely at what you're doing).

Progress was No. 1 in line at the tax-break trough, scooping up more than twice as much in taxpayer largesse as the No. 2 company, DTE Energy Co. (Third in line was Marriott International, Inc.; the company augmented their hotel business with $269 million in tax credits as a result of their synthetic coal operations.)

Something to chew on as everybody's favorite power company lobbies Tallahassee for a 6.5 percent rate increase, or your VCR light starts blinking again.

Who you callin' a lapdog?

Noam Chomsky -- the fire-breathing, liberal MIT linguistics professor with a rock star-style following -- spoke to an audience of 6,000-plus at the University of Florida in Gainesville Oct. 21. Students trekked from all over the state to hear him tear into the Bush administration, rip the war in Iraq a new one and pillory the lapdog corporate media that has done such a lackluster job of reporting on both.

But, in a moment that should make all Orlandoans proud, our own Orlando Sentinel sent a reporter and photographer to cover Chomsky. In case you missed it, the Sentinel story ran six days later, Oct. 27, on page B3.

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