Political News

Lawyer: Florida senator's slurs are protected free speech

Posted April 20

FILE - This March 9, 2012, file photo shows Republican state senator Frank Artiles, R-Miami, asking a questions about a pip insurance bill during house session in Tallahassee, Fla. Artiles, a Republican state senator, is expected to apologize publicly Wednesday April 19, 2017, for using racial slurs and obscene insults in a private after-hours conversation with African-American colleagues. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon, File)

— A lawyer representing a state senator who could be punished for using a racial slur and other vulgarities said Thursday that the remarks — as offensive as they were — are protected by free speech and that other senators have used similar language.

Lawyer Steven Andrews wrote to the Senate lawyer reviewing the case of Republican Frank Artiles and said that a complaint filed by black lawmakers shouldn't be pursued because Artiles is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

He also said Artiles' comments should be judged side-by-side with the remarks of other senators.

"Should this matter be sent to the Senate floor, my client intends to put evidence of other similar speech by other Senators," Andrews wrote to Senate lawyer Dawn Roberts.

He also said Roberts should step down from the case because of conflicts of interest, having previously represented Artiles and witnesses that could be called.

The matter began Monday night during a private conversation with two African-American senators at a members-only club near the Capitol. Artiles used obscenities with Sen. Audrey Gibson, including one particularly offensive to women. Sen. Perry Thurston intervened and Artiles, a Cuban-American from the Miami area, used a variation of the "n-word" and used a vulgarity to describe Republican Senate President Joe Negron, according to the complaint filed Wednesday by Thurston.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, reviewed the complaint and found it's likely Artiles' comments and behavior violated Senate rules. The Florida Legislative Black Caucus is asking for Artiles' expulsion, which would be an option if the full Senate determines there was a rules violation.

Negron asked Roberts to make a recommendation by Tuesday.

In the meantime, Republican Gov. Rick Scott weighed in on the matter while speaking with reporters in Tampa.

"If I had an employee that said what he said, I would immediately fire him," Scott said.

Thurston wasn't immediately available for comment, according to a receptionist in his Senate office.

In a separate letter to Negron, Andrews told the Senate president that he should avoid voting on any punishment because he has already prejudged Artiles by condemning the comments earlier this week.


AP writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report.


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  • William Sherman Apr 20, 9:52 p.m.
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    Oh lets see here---if a term is used openly, frequently in nearly all venues, and loudly--its fine if a certain group can use that term but deny its use to everyone else. Right??? All through out the Civil Rights Movement, the objective as I understood it was to have the African Americans become fully involved in the main stream society--just like everyone else. But there is also the fact that the African Americans, while pushing for inclusion we saying --wait a second, we're different, you have to treat us differently.. If the term is used by that group then it is available to be used by all groups..That is what inclusion is...

  • Quid Malmborg Apr 20, 7:46 p.m.
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    Herr Twittler has normalized this sort of behavior. This is why people like William Sherman voted for him.

  • Arron Lee Apr 20, 3:49 p.m.
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    So weird that we live in a land where one single word is deemed so "offensive" and off limits. I guess the "sticks and stones" concept we learned as children is no longer applicable. If it is OK for AA's to say it, everyone should also have that right. If not, we simply have more discrimination.

  • Andrew Stephenson Apr 20, 2:52 p.m.
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    Oh, please. Maybe if you lived under a rock for the past 60 years. As dumb as it is, it has been common knowledge that word is off limits to non-black people. No one gets to feign ignorance in 2017. This is not new.

  • William Sherman Apr 20, 1:52 p.m.
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    A not unreasonable conclusion is that if African Americans use that term in their music, their stage performances, their movies, and in general every day conversation, then they are giving permission for everyone else to use that term.

  • Lance Cotten Apr 20, 10:11 a.m.
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    meanwhile this same "offensive" term is used daily by the AA population talking to each other and in the rap music they listen too... Hmmmm