Clerk of Court Ramirez cleared of criminal allegations
By Ken Jackson
While the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office cleared Osceola County Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez of a handful of criminal allegations investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, State Attorney Jeff Ashton levied what could be considered a reprimand against Ramirez and his staff.
“While the evidence available to me at this time does not rise to the level of justifying the filing of criminal charges, it does suggest that you and your senior staff could benefit from some additional training in the area of public records retention and public records laws,” Ashton wrote in a letter sent to the Clerk’s office and addressed to Ramirez Thursday. “I would also remind you that any communication that concerns itself with the business of a public entity is a public record regardless of the ownership of the computer used to generate that document and that private email accounts should never be used in an effort to thwart access to documents and information covered by Chapter 119 of Florida Statutes.”
That paragraph referenced public record violations in which Ramirez allegedly instructed an employee to use her personal email account for office business to circumvent public records access laws, and that his Chief Deputy Clerk Jennifer Soto asked an employee to delete an email chain in the office server to prevent it from becoming a public document.
Ashton noted that instructing an employee to do that is not a crime — so long as the clerk of court provides records of the business contained, unless exempted by statute. Regarding the deleted email, he reported no evidence that the deletion resulted in destruction of public documents.
“To your credit, you supported the employee in his refusal to take the requested action,” Ashton said. “It would be a violation of Chapter 119 of Florida Statutes and potentially prosecutable as a criminal offense to either destroy or fail to produce those records.”
In the letter, Ashton also stated that Ramirez was cleared, due to insufficient evidence of exchanging a promise of employment to a man, identified as Richard Martin, for campaign contributions, noting Martin received “a clear statement that no such offer was being made because it was illegal.”
Insufficient evidence also was found in allegations that Ramirez and his transition team terminated employees prior to officially taking office and that he exchanged a promise to employ Arthur “Beau” Osborne in exchange for his political support.
Ramirez hired Osborne as his Chief Deputy Clerk, but fired him just six weeks after taking office, saying that he “no longer trusted” Osborne. Osborne said in prior interviews that Ramirez asked him to brief him on some clerk of court duties during his 2012 campaign for office, but the offer of employment was not made “until the election results were final” according to Ashton.
Reached late Friday morning, Ramirez said he felt “vindicated and exonerated”.
“All along I have professed my innocence, the truth has prevailed,” he said. “I have been perplexed by these false allegations.”
Ramirez said he will heed Ashton’s suggestions of providing staff further public records training.
“He’s been a prosecutor for 32 years, so I respect his opinion,” Ramirez said of the State’s Attorney. “There’s always room for improvement.”