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Schofield prosecutor Jerry Hill's passive response simplifies and strengthens my Bar complaint against him
Hill stands by his obviously false statements and refuses to correct the record. This leaves the Florida Bar zero wiggle room if it's not totally corrupt. Read my rebuttal.
It remains unclear who paid for Jerry Hill’s lawyers to craft his relatively brief response to my Florida Bar complaint against him. I’ve posted the response at the bottom of my rebuttal. The law firm representing Hill is Jacobs, Scholz and Wyler of Fernandina Beach.
The Jacobs in that firm — Arthur “Buddy” Jacobs — doubles as the general counsel for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association (FPAA), which is funded by an assessment levied against each Circuit’s State’s Attorney’s Office.
Jacob Orr, the spokesman for the 10th Circuit State’s Attorney’s Office, told me some time ago that it’s his understanding that Hill is entitled to FPAA-funded defense as a private lawyer because he was a State’s Attorney for a long time. Exact quote:
It is my understanding that as a former elected State Attorney for 32 years, Mr Hill is covered by his FPAA membership for representation in this matter.
So it is likely that the taxpayers, at least indirectly, funded Jerry Hill’s complaint defense.
Interestingly, Hill’s response contains a “certificate of disclosure” referring to 10th Circuit State’s Attorney Brian Haas as “my supervisor” at the time of the behavior described in the complaint. But Hill only asserts that he was “associated” with the SAO. Is he trying to say he wasn’t a private lawyer, but an employee of the SAO during the 2020 and 2023 incidents? It doesn’t really seem like it. But this bears watching. Maybe it’s a way of justifying FPAA funds for his defense.
No one with the SAO has ever suggested to me that Jerry Hill was anything but a private lawyer representing a public client in the 2020 and 2023 incidents. And public money for private benefit is an ethical no-no, as I understand it. I see no evidence that private lawyers can be members of FPAA. Thus, I do not believe Jerry Hill is a member of FPAA.
I would love to confirm all of this; but the FPAA executive director Garett Berman has refused to answer any questions. He referred them instead to FPAA general counsel Buddy Jacobs, who has refused to even acknowledge my questions about who is paying his firm.
In any event, whoever paid for this response did not get their money’s worth, in my opinion. Here is my rebuttal, which I submitted via email earlier this week. See if you agree.
Only one sentence in the response Jerry Hill’s lawyers provided to my Florida Bar complaint is relevant to the truth of the accusations contained in that complaint. Here it is:
“First and foremost, Mr. Hill, without equivocation stands by every word contained in his comments to the Parole Commission regarding Leo Schofield.”
That statement is a confession. It extends and continues Hill’s violation of Florida Bar rules of conduct, which forbid false statements to a tribunal and demand that a lawyer correct the record if he or she misstates facts.
Hill gave three clearly false and material statements to the Florida Commission on Offender Review in 2020. I documented them in the body of my complaint.
Yet Hill is continuing to insist his false statements are true. Thus, the Bar’s responsibility is simple. If these statements are false, Jerry Hill is in clear violation of Bar rules. Here are the statements. Each part in bold is false on its face, as I documented factually in detail in the complaint:
“In September, the defendant sends a letter to counsel admitting to the murder of Mrs. Schofield.”
“Year and a half ago, we’re in courtrooms in Bartow, where he produces a fella by the name of Jeremy Scott, who he says has confessed to the crime. He calls it newly discovered evidence.”
“Leo said uh he began to search, the closer he got to Michelle, the worse his head hurt. He saw an opening in some bushes along where a pit was, and as he searched along the sides of the pit looking for her shoes, and stepped up into this opening, he looked in the water and saw a white arm from under the board. He said he continued to look and saw that it was Michelle. He then flagged down the car. Found it by some… super intervention. I think this is worthy of note. On 16 March 87, at about 14:50 hours, Leo Schofield Senior and Junior, dad’s always with him, arrived at the C.I.S. Central Operations Building where Leo was to take a polygraph.”
Let’s just take the first statement as an example:
It is not in dispute that Leo Schofield Jr. is the defendant in the case in question, which concerns the 1987 murder of Leo Schofield Jr.’s wife Michelle Schofield.
Jerry Hill himself referred to Leo Schofield Jr. as the “defendant” 18 times during his 2020 statement. In Hill’s 19th and final use of “defendant,” he asserted that “the defendant” confessed to killing Michelle Schofield. That is false. Leo Schofield Jr. has never confessed to killing Michelle Schofield. Hill offers no other rebuttal or context to his false statement in his response to my complaint. Hill is self-evidently in violation of Bar rules, as his own response makes clear.
If Hill wanted the Bar to believe that he meant someone other than Leo Schofield Jr. in his 19th and final reference to “the defendant,” he should have named that person in his response. He did not. All the Bar is left to adjudicate is the self-evidently false statement: “In September, the defendant sends a letter to counsel admitting to the murder of Mrs. Schofield.” This did not happen. It’s open and shut.
The other two statements are false as well. Hill makes no effort whatsoever to challenge my documentation that they’re false. He doesn’t try to establish their accuracy or correct the record. His lawyers don’t even argue that the false statements are de minimis. The Bar has no choice but to find Hill in violation. He is not even contesting the allegations. He’s just saying that the false statements are not false. He’s saying that 2+2 equals 5. But it does not.
Everything else in the response is just a form of “Yes, but …” in response to the facts I’ve alleged and how they violate Bar rules. Hill’s lawyers offer nothing more than mitigation. You can stop reading this response here if you want. But I am including some additional context points worth considering.
Parole commissioners cannot bail out Hill’s false statements
Hill’s lawyers spend considerable space arguing that parole commissioners never felt confused or misled by Hill’s false statements. They offer no factual evidence of this assertion; but it’s also irrelevant. The Bar’s rules of professional responsibility impose the duty to correct misstatements of fact – and not simply because of their impact on decision-makers. The public is also entitled to a clean and factual record of the actions taken in our name. Uncorrected misstatements of fact bring dishonor to the public and the Bar.
I do agree with Hill’s lawyers that getting sworn statements from commissioners might yield very interesting answers. I would encourage the Bar to ask this question specifically under oath:
Have you ever understood, erroneously, that Leo Schofield confessed to killing his wife? If so, how did you come to that incorrect conclusion and how was it corrected?
But again, this is only academic for Hill.
Any answers from parole commissioners can only strengthen my complaint. They have no bearing at all on Hill’s defense. They have no bearing on Hill’s false statements beyond the possibility of establishing a direct impact from the false statement. But the direct impact on decision-makers is unnecessary to establish misconduct. For instance, no lawyer would ever assert that perjury is acceptable if the judge isn’t fooled by it.
Being a macho man/child does not excuse the disrespect to the public shown in the “Fuck You” incident
Hill’s lawyers acknowledge that the “Fuck you” incident in the Polk County Commission chambers happened as I said it did.
But they added this rather amusing bit of editorial fiction:
Second, when a person gets in someone else's face and calls them a liar, the accuser should appreciate the fact that the accused might consider the accuser's statement to be "fighting words." Mr. Hill explains that when he was growing up, people did not use fighting words unless they were prepared to back them up. Here, while Mr. Hill's response to the complainant's question was not the best choice of words, under the circumstances it does not rise to the level of actionable misconduct. Finally, Mr. Townsend's statement to Mr. Hill clearly invited a response; however, it appears that Mr. Townsend wants to be perceived as a victim in turning a personal conversation into a public matter.
Factually, “when a person gets in someone else's face and calls them a liar” is a truly silly description of what happened. In reality, Jerry Hill and I shook hands, at an appropriate social distance, and then I asked him professionally and civilly when he was going to correct his lie.
It’s telling that I gave Hill’s defense team a witness friendly to Jerry Hill – Jacob Orr of the 10th Circuit State’s Attorney’s Office – and they apparently couldn’t get Orr to say anything damning about my behavior.
A second witness, former Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson, will testify that our exchange, which he did not hear, looked “collegial” in body language from his seat. Nobody was in anybody’s face. Jerry Hill just lost his composure. And I walked off.
It’s important to note that I asked Hill that question as his client. Hill was representing the people of Florida and the 10th Judicial Circuit as a private lawyer when he gave his false statements to the COR in 2020. I was asking him about misconduct perpetrated in my name, presumably with my tax money.
And the “fighting words” legal doctrine is not a child’s taunt game, as Hill and his lawyers should know. It dates to the 1942 Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire case. Here is a key excerpt from that opinion. Consider the part in bold.
[I]t is well understood that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances. There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which has never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or `fighting' words — those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality. “Resort to epithets or personal abuse is not in any proper sense communication of information or opinion safeguarded by the Constitution, and its punishment as a criminal act would raise no question under that instrument.”
Again, I was asking Jerry Hill, as his client, when he planned to address the professional misconduct he exhibited in my name. I was asking about a discrete example of his public, professional behavior. That Hill and his lawyers claim to consider that a “breach of the peace” says a great deal about their contempt for the public Hill was supposedly serving.
And then Hill responded with an epithet and personal abuse. I encourage the Bar to consider who is more likely to run afoul of the “fighting words” doctrine in this instance.
In any event, I’m not sure what else Hill would like me to do to “back up” my supposed fighting words. I signed my name to a sworn Florida Bar complaint documenting Jerry Hill’s lies and his outburst to my very politely offered question. He certainly did not challenge me to a fist fight; and if he did, I would not have obliged. I’m a middle-aged man; and Jerry Hill is an old man. I am not going to punch him over a conversation that was civil on my side. Indeed, I’m not inclined to punch anyone beyond pure self-defense – because I’m not a child.
So I assure the Bar, I am not Jerry Hill’s victim.
In fact, I was quite pleased that Jerry Hill lost his composure in such a public and undisciplined way. To me, his “Fuck You” to a member of the public asking him a polite, but serious question, makes an excellent metaphor for his handling of the entire Leo Schofield case. If there’s one thing the Leo Schofield case screams, it’s “Fuck you, public” and “Fuck you justice.” I do think there should be accountability for that – but for the sake of the public and Leo Schofield, not me. Jerry Hill is incapable of offending me.
But if Jerry Hill is unable to manage himself in the face of a citizen’s simple polite question, the Bar and the public should consider how poorly he likely managed his emotions in all the years he ran the 10th Circuit SAO.
Notoriety for Jerry Hill
Hill and his lawyers show a revealing psychology here:
Finally, it is also important to point out the fact that Mr. Townsend appears to be seeking personal notoriety via his involvement with the Leo Schofield matter, namely via his personal blog, wherein he took it upon himself, on July 5, 2023, to publish the instant bar complaint before it was officially assigned a case number and distributed to Mr. Hill.
They seem incapable of conceiving that a citizen might simply pursue acts of citizenship for their own moral sake. They imagine I must have some nefarious personal angle. I think that says much about them, not me.
For the record, since I left journalism in 2008, I have never been paid a dime for anything I have ever written on my “blog” or my Substack newsletter platform. My writing is a public expression of my citizenship. I’ve been a public figure – including an elected official from 2016-2020 – for years. Personal “notoriety” in my community is a fact of my life I’m indifferent to.
I am seeking notoriety for Jerry Hill, however, because I am seeking long overdue exoneration for Leo Schofield Jr. Notoriety for Hill’s behavior in the case is a crucial to that exoneration in my view.
That’s why I wrote about these incidents publicly long before I filed a formal complaint; and it’s why I published my complaint and updates on its progress. That’s why I will publish this, too.
I will close by quoting another “notoriety” seeker – State Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers who chairs the Florida’s Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee. Sen. Martin was seeking “notoriety” for Leo Schofield’s injustice when he said this publicly to the Commission on Offender Review in 2023:
“Everything that I’ve seen about this case turns my stomach. I don’t know why Leo Schofield wasn’t released years ago when he went before this board.
“You have the opportunity to release him immediately. He wasn’t released last time because he wasn’t remorseful. You cannot be remorseful for something you did not do. It’s not your job to consider guilt or innocence, but if you are going to consider whether someone is remorseful and whether they should be released today or should have been released years ago, you have to at least crack the transcript, wonder why the fingerprints of a serial killer were inside Michelle’s car and were never tested and never presented to the jury in Polk County over 30 years ago. I was 5-years-old of when Leo Schofield started doing time for this murder.
“I stand by the criminal justice system here in the state of Florida. We’re one of the best on the planet. But there’s a whole lot of doubt right now about how good we are. You guys have the chance today to restore credibility to a system that thousands of people know an injustice happened and is continuing every single second that Leo Schofield is behind bars.”
The only difference between my public behavior and Sen. Martin’s is that I have now sought to impose a professional consequence on Jerry Hill – who is the author of his own predicament and the driving force of everything that turns Sen. Martin’s stomach about the Leo Schofield case.
Here is the actual response to my original complaint.