A federal appeals court Thursday rejected arguments in a civil lawsuit filed by a Jacksonville attorney whose conviction was overturned in a high-profile case about alleged illegal gambling at internet cafes.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit filed by attorney Kelly Mathis against former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas Cox, former Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger, and an investigator and a former general counsel for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.
Mathis was convicted in 2013 on gambling-related charges involving an organization known as Allied Veterans of the World, which was a major player in the internet cafe industry.
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The state’s 5th District Court of Appeal in 2016 said Mathis should receive a new trial, ultimately leading to the prosecution being dropped. In the civil lawsuit and appeal, Mathis contended that he was acting as an attorney for Allied Veterans of the World and should not have been prosecuted because of any alleged illegal activities involving internet cafes.
He argued, in part, that he was arrested without probable cause and was a victim of “malicious prosecution,” Thursday’s ruling said.
A district judge in 2020 said the state and Seminole County authorities were shielded from the lawsuit through immunities designed to protect prosecutors and government officials for actions they take in their work. Thursday’s 32-page ruling by appeals-court Judges Jill Pryor, Britt Grant, and R. Lanier Anderson supported that conclusion.
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“Notably, the amended complaint (the lawsuit) included no well-pled allegation that the prosecutors themselves conducted any investigative work before Mathis’s arrest,” part of Thursday’s ruling said. “Because the allegations in the amended complaint show that the claims against the prosecutors arose solely out of actions they took in initiating the criminal case and preparing for trial, we conclude that the prosecutors were entitled to absolute immunity.”