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Franklin v. Battie Court Battle Continues

Written by on Thursday, July 4, 2024

Community activist appeals judge’s dismissal; Sarasota City Commission funds Battie’s defense.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: July 3, 2024

Host: City of Sarasota commissioners are providing full support for one of their own who is subject to a lawsuit by a resident who says she was defamed by Commissioner Kyle Battie. At issue is a January city commission meeting, in which Battie — who is African American — blindsided his colleagues by requesting an agenda item based on a Facebook post that turned out to be fake. During discussion, he showed a printout of the fake post, essentially accusing neighborhood activist Kelly Franklin of being racist, and never apologized. Franklin is now taking her lawsuit to appeal, as Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: Fellow Sarasota City Commissioners on Monday, July 1st, rallied behind Commissioner Kyle Battie in his legal skirmish with vocal and local civic activist Kelly Franklin. They voted 4–0 (with Battie recused) to cover $25,000 in legal fees related to a lawsuit filed by Franklin against Battie. The City of Sarasota, the commissioners said, is responsible for his legal defense because he was acting as an elected official when he allegedly defamed his fellow Sarasota resident. City Attorney Robert Fornier said as much, in advising on their legal obligations.

The fake post is part of court evidence.

The commissioners also fell in line with Judge Stephen Walker of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court. In mid-June, he approved a motion to dismiss Franklin’s lawsuit. Walker ruled that statements made by Battie on January 12th during a city commission hearing which portrayed Franklin as a racist were delivered in his official capacity as an elected official, and he was personally shielded from allegations of slander. And the city thus gets stuck with Battie’s legal bills.

The litigation is over a Facebook post with racial overtones that Battie alleged was issued by Franklin. But the social media post was a hoax. She sued Battie for trying to destroy her credibility, and for defamation and emotional distress. The city commissioners said they’d consider covering further legal costs now that Franklin, on Tuesday, appealed Walker’s ruling.

Franklin did not speak in person at Monday’s public hearing, but called in. She said Kylie Battie was “an elected official that made the selfish decision to set fire to the U.S. Constitution by weaponizing an essential ingredient of democracy: the freedom to debate.” She said “no attempts were made to verify the authenticity of the Facebook post before deploying it as a prop in a perverse political theater.”

Kelly Franklin: Furthermore, a circuit judge has found that a decades old Florida Supreme Court ruling potentially creates absolute immunity for any elected official in Florida to falsely vilify a critic. We the people cannot afford to allow this intentional and malignant abuse of power to manufacture a license-to-lie loophole from municipal officials. And that is the precedent that will be set if this ruling is allowed to stand. 

Therefore, I will be pursuing at my own expense, justice for all through the court process. All I ask of those sworn to uphold our constitution is that they refrain from committing further public tax dollars to defending despicable actions and anti democratic choices made by Kyle Battie.

RL: Eileen Normile is a former prosecutor and city commissioner. She also is a steering committee member of CityPAC, a political committee that supports city commission candidates  — including Franklin’s husband Ron Kashden — who “will seek to implement resident-friendly policies.” She said “It is now clear that our elected officials are free to publicly broadcast false and reputation-damaging information about us, just as long as they do so during the course of city business.” Normile added: “As of now, other than voting them out, the only redress against elected officials who knowingly defame is to let them pay their own way through the legal morass that follows.”

We give Kyle Battie the last word.

Kyle Battie: This is a very, very unfortunate place to be. I’ve sat back. I’ve made no statement in public, made no statement in paper. Even prior to the judgment and the ruling that was rendered by Judge Walker — and I’d just like to thank him for his ruling and following the law. And most of all, thank the citizens and residents of the city that have stood by me.

I’ve taken the hits, and it’s not just myself, it’s my family as well. I’ve been called names by this individual, it’s almost like a public lynching went on right here.This is what comes with the territory. It’s shameful for what’s going on. She continues to pursue this, this is on her. It’s not on us, it’s not on me, it’s not on my character. But I’ll continue to go on and stand my ground as I’m sure they probably will as well. They’re perfectly within their right. 

RL: Franklin’s plea to the commissioners fell on deaf ears, and the matter of Franklin v. Battie is now destined to see another day in court.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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