Tallahassee Gadfly Brian Pitts Sentenced to Five Months in Jail
One of the Capitol’s most visible lobbyists – Justice 2 Jesus’ Brian Pitts – has been ordered jailed following a lengthy dispute with the Florida Bar and state Supreme Court, which found him guilty of practicing law without a license.
Pitts was sentenced to five months in jail Monday by the Florida Supreme Court, which handed down the unusual punishment for repeated violations of justices’ 2003 order aimed at “permanently and perpetually enjoining (Pitts) from engaging in the practice of law.”
Pitts, who has lived in St. Petersburg, was given five days to surrender to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, or risk being taken into custody by deputies, according to the order. The ruling, however, does give Pitts 15 days to request a rehearing before the court.
Pitts and his associates with Justice 2 Jesus, a self-styled advocacy organization, did not immediately return phone calls from the News Service of Florida.
Pitts is a ubiquitous presence at the Capitol, testifying frequently before legislative committees. He has been critical of state spending decisions, and repeatedly challenges legislative budget committees for steering tax incentive dollars to companies whose names are shielded under state law. Pitts isn’t officially registered as a lobbyist.
Pitts often bolsters his policy attacks by citing constitutional grounds. But records stemming from the Florida Bar investigation shows that Pitts has not graduated from an accredited law school, nor passed the state’s Bar exam.
In the court’s November 2003 order, Pitts was barred from appearing in any Florida court on behalf of a client or from giving legal advice in a state case. He also was prohibited from using a power of attorney in an attempt to represent a client in legal matters.
But in sentencing Pitts to jail -- a sanction rarely handed down by the court in practice disputes – justices ruled that he prepared legal summonses in 2004 for two clients while also attempting to file a “notice of designated representative” in 2006 with the St. Petersburg Community Affairs Department in a human relations complaint.
Pitts also attempted to file a “designation of durable power of attorney” with the city and later attempted to represent a client before St. Petersburg’s Human Relations Review Board, the court ruled.
For more than three years, Pitts has wrangled with the Supreme Court over the latest accusations, pleading not guilty, demanding a jury trial, and filing motions seeking various delays in the case.
Pitts had a final hearing in October 2007, but that has not stemmed the blizzard of legal filings that have filled the subsequent years.
Pitts, though, has had his defenders. Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, filed legislation (SB 58), aimed at compensating Pitts for income lost in the battle with the Bar over practicing law.
Siplin, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, contends in the legislation that Pitts should not be sanctioned because Florida law recognizes the right of ‘lay persons’ to practice law and that authorities deprived him of that right.
The bill, which Pitts told the News Service last year that he authored, would appoint an administrative law judge to conduct a hearing to determine whether there is a legal basis to compensate Pitts for lost income. The bill called for paying Pitts $350,000, an amount that would have to be approved by lawmakers.