Governor Suspends New Commissioner Fitzgerald from Office Over Felony Charges
Last updated 7/8/2021 at 6:58am
Fitzgerald waived her arraignment this week and entered pleas of not guilty, asking for a jury trial on two charges: interference with custody of a minor and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Fitzgerald was arrested June 3 on two felony charges for allegedly taking an 11-year-old boy from his home without permission and threatening him with a loaded handgun. She was released from the Polk County Jail Saturday, June 5 after posting $11,000 bond and has been attending meetings of the city commission, to which she was elected in April and installed in May.
The governor has the authority to suspend any city or county official who is charged with a felony.
Now according to the City Charter the Lake Wales City Commission has 30 days to name a temporary replacement, who would serve until Fitzgerald is either cleared and reinstated or the until voters elect a new commissioner in April 2022 to finish out the last two years of her three-year term. If she is found not guilty she will be eligible for reinstatement and back pay.
Mayor Eugene Fultz said people who live within Fitzgerald's district who are interested in the temporary appointment should submit a letter of interest and a resume to City Clerk Jennifer Nanek. They should also be available to attend the city commission meeting at 6 p.m. July 20 to answer questions. The district map is available in Nanek's office at the city administration building.
Fultz said he was glad the governor finally took action so the commission can move forward with the city's business.
Fitzerald's attorney, Grady Irvin Jr. issued the following statement about DeSantis's action: "Today, we have been informed that the Lake Wales (FL) city clerk has informed our client, elected Lake Wales City Commissioner Kristen Fitzgerald that she has been suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis effective immediately following her arrest over one month ago. We are certain that Governor DeSantis, a lawyer himself, has not concluded in any way that Ms. Fitzgerald is guilty of any crime following her arrest, and we are just as certain that he took no joy, whatsoever, in suspending the duly-elected Ms. Fitzgerald."
Fultz said he knows that at least two former city commissioners, Al Goldstein and Pete Perez, have expressed an interest in serving. Goldstein lost to Fitzgerald April 6 by only 32 votes, and his supporters have been asking the commission to return him to the seat if the governor created the vacancy.
If Fitzgerald is found not guilty or is otherwise cleared of the charges she would be awarded back pay and returned to office for the remainder of her term. If her term of office has expired she would receive back pay but not be reinstated, according to the statute.
If she is convicted of either charge, pleads guilty or nolo contendere, the governor would have the power to remove her from the office permanently.
Fitzgerald was accused of taking the 11-year-old boy for a drive to confront him about an accusation that he touched her 13-year-old daughter sexually in 2020 and holding a handgun in her lap and threatening him while driving him home. The boy denies the allegations