Commissioner Fitzgerald Expected to Be Reinstated by Governor DeSantis
City Commissioner Suspended by Governor, Then Acquitted by a Jury
Last updated 12/30/2022 at 11:38am
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A written appeal for re-instatement has been sent to Governor Ron DeSantis by former Lake Wales City Commissioner Kris Fitzgerald, who was found not guilty in October of charges lodged against her only weeks after her election in April 2021.
Fitzgerald faced a weapons charge after confronting a young relative who was accused of a sexual assault on her daughter. Her acquittal in an October jury trial came more than a year after her arrest.
Florida Statutes 112.51.6 allows the governor to suspend municipal officials, but says in part that "If the municipal official is acquitted or found not guilty...then the Governor shall forthwith revoke the suspension and restore such municipal official to office."
Fitzgerald was unsuccessful in meeting with DeSantis during a trip to Tallahassee two weeks ago and is attempting to set an appointment for Monday through the governor's website.
Restoring Commissioner Fitzgerald to the remainder of her term would require Danny Kreuger to vacate the seat he won in a special election in April of this year. That election was held to fill the vacancy during Fitzgerald's suspension.
Fitzgerald had run a successful underdog campaign against an incumbent city commissioner. She took office in May 2021 and was suspended by DeSantis on July 7.
Fitzgerald was philosophical about the trauma her arrest and suspension caused her and her minor daughter, who she said was forced to watch her arrest in their home. She remains critical of Polk Sheriff Grady Judd, who trumpeted her arrest in a press conference.
"He did make a number of statements to national media that indicated that I was guilty. He's leading people, leading by example. It was unnecessary," she said, "unless you're a bully. In this country you are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty."
"Everybody seems to forget that this was originally reported as a sexual assault," Fitzgerald said. "My daughter suffered needlessly."
"Lots of people look up to me, not just my daughter," Fitzgerald added. "I was a school administrator. Those kids were affected too."
Fitzgerald is a certified mental health professional and was a long-time employee of the Vanguard School in Lake Wales. She subsequently had restrictions placed on her license that prevented her from working for a year and a half.
"I had days when I felt like giving up," Fitzgerald said, "so I can imagine how hard it was on other people."
Fitzgerald's daughter, Mariah, echoed those comments. "It was very confusing, first of all, and painful," she said. "One of my first thoughts was 'it this my fault?' but none of it felt real, if that makes sense. Everything happened off what I said, and I felt guilty, seeing her arrested, and going to school and hearing comments." Mariah attends Lake Wales High School.
"It was always kind of a 'how could you" thought because the people who started this were family members," Mariah told LakeWalesNews.net. "It was my father's side of the family that started this, but now I feel like a weight has been lifted."
"Now I feel I still have a little bit of guilt, but now we have a chance for our lives to go back to normal. It still doesn't feel right because they took a sexual assault and turned it into a political case," she added.
Florida statute allows the governor to "suspend" an elected official, a power that DeSantis has freely wielded against Democrats during his time as governor. DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel after the Parkland school shooting in 2018.
DeSantis also suspended four Broward School Board members in August over an $800 million bond issue for school-construction projects. He appointed four Republicans to replace the suspended board members.
In August he suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren because he refused to prosecute people under Florida's strict new anti-abortion laws. That move resulted in a federal lawsuit which is being considered now.
In the case of Commissioner Fitzgerald, Florida Statutes require him to end her suspension and return her to office. It is unknown at this time how quickly the governor will take that action.