Prosecutors are calling accusations of misconduct against the lead prosecutor in John Goodman’s DUI manslaughter case a poorly-timed ploy to get the polo mogul out of a 16-year prison sentence after several other attempts have failed, according to the newest arguments filed in the case.
The response from the Florida Attorney General’s office comes after Goodman’s legal team late last month filed paperwork with the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach seeking to have the appellate court temporarily give up its jurisdiction so they can bring the case back before Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath and argue for a new trial.
Defense attorneys Roy Black and Richard Strafer say Goodman, who last year was convicted in the February 2010 death of 23-year-old Scott Wilson, was the victim of unfair treatment from traffic homicide prosecutor Ellen Roberts. They say Roberts used her position to curry favor with politicians as she applied for an interim state attorney job, and that she later began lobbying for a job at the civil firm that represented Wilson’s father in a wrongful death suit.
But attorney Assistant Attorney General Richard Valuntas called the allegations without merit in a response he filed with the appellate court late last week. He argues that Goodman’s team failed to demonstrate how Roberts’ actions would identify as misconduct under state law.
“Relinquishing jurisdiction in this case would be the antithesis of judicial economy and would promote the piecemeal review of the issues in this case, which is highly disfavorable,” Valuntas wrote.
Roberts, who retired in May after more than two decades as a prosecutor, has since June been working part time at the Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath law firm. Firm partner Scott Smith represented Scott Wilson’s father, William, in the wrongful death suit Goodman settled with Wilson’s parents for an estimated $40 million on the eve of his trial last March.
Goodman’s team last month provided emails between Smith and Roberts showing that Roberts had asked Smith last year to let his brothers-in-law know that she was vying for a job as Palm Beach County State Attorney to finish out the 10 months remaining of former top prosecutor Michael McAuliffe’s term.
Although Smith is married to the sister of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, and state Rep. Patrick Rooney Jr., R-West Palm Beach, both brothers told The Palm Beach Post last month that they have known Roberts even longer than Smith. Tom Rooney, a grade-school friend of Roberts’ daughter — who still reverentially refers to the prosecutor as “Mrs. Roberts” — credits Roberts with sparking his own interest in a career in law and called the misconduct accusation “absurd.”
Valuntas, in the state’s response, said Goodman’s team only filed the “attack” on Roberts because their previous attempts to have Goodman’s case overturned have so far failed. If the appellate court allows Goodman to take his case back to trial court, then Colbath could schedule a hearing to discuss the allegations against Roberts before issuing a ruling. He also could elect to make a decision without a ruling.
But if the court denies Goodman’s request, then the next step will be for the Fourth DCA to hear oral arguments in his appeal. Among the issues Goodman’s team has presented as grounds for appeal are improper rulings they say Colbath made during the trial, and allegations of jury misconduct centered around juror Dennis DeMartin’s revelation that he had conducted his own drinking experiment the night before deliberations.
Roberts on Wednesday called the defense team’s motion a personal attack, and said she would be shocked if the appellate court entertained it.
“I don’t understand why they even wasted their time to do this,” Roberts said. “It’s sort of a worthless motion.”