Bill would prevent prisoners from harassing federal officials January 1, 2004 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular News Bill would prevent prisoners from harassing federal officials Associate Editor It was a bit unsettling for Santa Rosa County Sheriff Wendell Hall’s wife to open the mail and discover that a lien had been filed against their property.It really took them aback to see that the person who had filed the lien was a federal prisoner who had been locked in the Santa Rosa jail and wasn’t happy about his accommodations.“There it was, Lot 2, Block C, and my subdivision,” said Sheriff Hall. “He did Judge Vinson (Roger Vinson, chief judge of the U.S. Northern District of Florida) the same way. Judge Vinson took it a lot more personal than I did. I told him if you indict him, don’t bring him back to our jail.”Judge Vinson preferred not to comment.But this latest method for bad guys to try to intimidate judicial and law-enforcement officials came to light during a December 9 meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee.Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, filed SB 348, which would create an exemption from the Public Records Law for “identifying and location information” for current and former federal officials, their spouses, and children; including U.S. attorneys, assistant U.S. attorneys, and federal judges and magistrates, including federal appellate judges.“In our region, there have been complaints that after investigation or prosecution by the U.S. attorney’s office, criminals have filed liens against those attorneys and officers,” explained Peaden.“What?” asked a surprised Senate Judiciary chair, Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami. “They filed a lien against the prosecutor?”“Fraudulent liens, and federal prisoners in the Santa Rosa County Jail did the same thing to the Santa Rosa sheriff after the prisoner moved to Arkansas,” Peaden said.Villalobos wondered how real the problem could be if the liens are fraudulent.Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Tamarac, said, “It’s false and fraudulent, but it costs a lot to take care of it. It’s become epidemic.”At the First Amendment Foundation, President Barbara Peterson said: “I’ve heard about it, but I don’t think it’s an epidemic.. . . We’re not crazy about exemptions, but this is very similar to an exemption already in place for state prosecutors and judges. I understand this exemption, because these are people who do deal with the criminal element on a regular basis. And there is a need to have their addresses protected. We’re not opposing it.”For Sheriff Hall, taking care of the fraudulent liens meant turning it over to the county attorney, and he had to get a judge’s order to have his address removed from the tax rolls.Hall said he is not in favor of elected officials hiding information about the property they own, because it’s valid information for the public to know.“I would just as soon see it illegal to file fraudulent liens,” he said. “Nevertheless, there should be some special act where you do have to go through the clerks of court to obtain the information.”In his case, Hall believes that the prisoner had access to the tax collector’s Web site from prison, or had someone on the outside look it up.“First I was getting information that he was in fact seeking large sums of money, alleging he had been mistreated while in my jail,” Hall said. “When I didn’t respond to that, then he comes back with the lien. When I first saw it, I thought well, when you have inmates in jail, both state and federal, you get a lot of trash in the mail. What really piqued my interest was that this was mailed to my personal address and to my wife. At that point, I thought, ‘This has gone too far.’ I turned it over to my attorney. And we contacted the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I talked about it to Sen. Peaden.”Peaden’s bill would not cover constitutional officers such as Hall. Hall shared what happened to him with the Florida Sheriff’s Association.“I would like to see the bill extended to any constitutional officer,” Hall said.Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres City, said, “If it’s an epidemic, there is no provision in this bill to exempt elected officials.” Villalobos said, “We’ll look into how to best do that, but not right now.”The bill passed out of the committee.