Kelly Mathis, Attorney Convicted In Allied Veterans Case, Launches $50M Lawsuit
Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court against officials of the Seminole County Sheriff's Department, former state Attorney General Pam Bondi and a member of her staff.
The complaint alleges that the defendants violated Mathis's constitutional rights when he was arrested in 2013 and prosecuted as part of the state's legal actions against one of his clients at the time, Allied Veterans of the World, a nonprofit that operated internet cafes.
The lawsuit also alleges abuse of process and conspiracy to commit malicious prosecution.
Mathis said the lawsuit is something he has considered since the state dropped the charges against him in 2017.
“I'm convinced it's what I need to do. It needs to be exposed for what really happened and the grimy details need to come out,” Mathis said.
Named in the lawsuit are former Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger, sheriff's department Capt. James Gibson, sheriff's department General Counsel April Kersheman, Bondi and Nicholas Cox, Bondi's statewide prosecutor.
On March 15, 2013, authorities raided 50 of Allied’s internet cafes and arrested 57 people on charges that the operation was conducting organized gambling.
Mathis, who had prevailed on behalf of his client in two court actions in Seminole County on the ground that what Allied was operating was a sweepstakes, also was arrested at his office in Jacksonville. His confidential records were seized, many of which were related to his client, Allied.
The state accused Mathis of being the “mastermind” of the operation and held him in custody for four days in Seminole County before he was released on bail.
Of the 57 people arrested, some had their charges dropped and others reached plea agreements with the state to avoid prosecution, except Mathis, who was confident he would be found innocent of wrongdoing at trial.
However Mathis was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison. He remained free while appealing the verdict.
With the guilty verdict, The Florida Bar was required to suspend Mathis's license to practice.
The 5th District Court of Appeal reversed the conviction and sentence and remanded Mathis for a new trial.
Bondi’s office then sought the state Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to appeal the ruling of the federal court, which was denied.
At that point, the state decided it would not try the case again and dismissed all charges against Mathis.
The Florida Bar then reinstated him retroactively after he had been suspended for nearly four years.
Mathis said Wednesday he is asking a jury to award him $50 million in damages for the loss of his law business and damage to his reputation.
He's also filing the case, he said, to make the point that an attorney can't be prosecuted for giving advice to a client and that communication between an attorney and a client is confidential.
Without the protection of attorney-client privilege, “how could any attorney practice law? That should be sacrosanct,” said Mathis.
He will represent himself when the case comes to trial.
“The reality is this case is probably too complicated for anyone else,” Mathis said.