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Federal Judge Sanctions Florida Sheriff’s Attorney for Threatening Plaintiff with Arrest

On February 10, 2011, a federal judge admonished and sanctioned a Florida lawyer defending Nassau County Sheriff Tommy Seagraves for using information obtained from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database to threaten with arrest a plaintiff in a civil suit who was suing Seagraves for damages.

Norman L. Gladney was arrested and spent five months in a Nassau County jail after he returned to the sheriff’s department, as instructed, to pick up $14,500 that deputies had seized from him during a 2005 traffic stop. The money had been bequeathed to Gladney by his mother, and he claimed it was improperly confiscated.

When he returned to get his money back, however, Gladney was arrested on a charge of having false identification. According to his lawsuit, the charges were dropped after prosecutors determined that he was in fact who he said he was.

The mystery, of course – and no doubt what prompted the lawsuit (at least in part) – is how the deputies who had seized the money from Gladney could not identify him when he returned, as they had instructed him, to get his money back. Deepening the mystery is the fact that law enforcement officials could not unravel Gladney’s identity before he had spent five months in custody – and then, adding insult to injury, they still did not return the $14,500 they had taken from him.

When Gladney filed suit against Seagraves in federal court, alleging unlawful arrest and seeking return of the confiscated funds, Seagraves’ lawyer, John Jolly, Jr., informed Gladney’s attorney that Nassau County deputies would arrest Gladney if he showed up for trial based on a South Carolina warrant they had uncovered in the NCIC database. Jolly also lowered his proffered settlement amount in the case after discovering the outstanding warrant.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Henry Adams was not amused by the fact that Jolly himself had directed the search of the NCIC database for warrants against Gladney. The South Carolina warrant, Judge Adams noted, had since been voided. In any event, Gladney’s lawyers argued, NCIC was intended to be used by authorities searching for information on a person relative to a pending criminal matter – not to gain advantage in a civil lawsuit.

Jolly told the district court he was “not apologetic” for acting as he did. The court in turn found that Jolly had acted in bad faith and sanctioned him. “Mr. Jolly intentionally sought to deter plaintiff from asserting his civil rights to gain advantage in this civil proceeding,” Judge Adams wrote. He added, “the fact that Mr. Jolly insists he did absolutely nothing wrong, and frequently represents various governmental entities in [federal court], underlines the need for admonishment.” Jolly was ordered to pay Gladney’s attorney fees for “the time necessarily incurred in prosecuting” the motion for sanctions.

Sheriff Seagraves was dismissed from Gladney’s suit, which went to trial against the remaining defendant, deputy Clyde Osborne, on February 14, 2011. However, the judge declared a mistrial. According to plaintiff’s attorney Edward B. Gaines, the case then settled the following month for $98,000 inclusive of all attorney fees, costs and sanctions. See: Gladney v. Seagraves, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No. 3:08-cv-01052-HLA-JBT.

Additional source: The Florida Times-Union

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Related legal case

Gladney v. Seagraves