A federal appeals court Tuesday reversed the bribery conviction of former Florida Senate President W.D. Childers, who was known as the Legislature’s “banty rooster” because of his feisty personality and short stature.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issued the 2-1 ruling. The majority found Childers’ trial judge erred by excluding evidence that could have impeached the credibility of the prosecution’s star witness.
The ruling came nearly a year after Childers, 76, was released from state prison last June after completing most of a 3 1/2-year sentence. But his lawyer, Nathan Dershowitz, said the former Pensacola lawmaker was still pleased.
“It vindicates him,” Dershowitz said. “This is not a technical reversal. This is a reversal that goes to the heart of the system.”
Childers’ daughter, Karen Childers, herself a lawyer in Lake Worth, said the family was ecstatic over the ruling. She declined, though, to provide a phone number for her father, who no longer lives in Pensacola, because the ruling could be appealed.
“We have always maintained his innocence,” she said. “He is a goodhearted person.”
The charges stemmed from Childers’ service as an Escambia County commissioner. He was elected to that position when he left the Senate after 30 years in 2000 due to term limits.
A former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party late in his political career, Childers was accused of bribing a fellow commissioner, Willie Junior, by giving him a cooking pot filled with cash to vote for the county’s purchase of a former soccer complex in 2001.