Florida Gov. DeSantis, Cabinet withhold pardon for voting rights activist Desmond Meade, at least for now

Tribune Content Agency

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Clemency Board on Wednesday declined to pardon Desmond Meade, the Orlando man who spearheaded Amendment 4, which allows felons who complete their sentences to get their voting rights back, but told him he could ask again.

DeSantis said he had questions over Meade’s dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Army for stealing government property in 1990. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican who also sits on the board as a Florida Cabinet member, said he wanted to know if Meade’s ex-wife had forgiven him after a domestic violence incident before he could grant a full pardon.

“This military court-martial, we’re going to need to get a little bit more information on that,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also noted the state couldn’t pardon the military conviction since that is a federal offense.

DeSantis said he would take the request “under advisement” but did not vote up or down on Meade’s petition. He said Meade could bring it back after bringing more information about his past infractions to the board.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat, said she was willing to approve the pardon.

“You are somebody who is an exemplary citizen and who has turned the page,” Fried said.

Attorney General Ashley Moody recused herself from voting on Meade but did not explain why.

Meade, 53, has multiple convictions for cocaine possession, battery and illegal firearm possession, but began to turn his life around in 2005 after checking into a drug rehabilitation program. He later graduated from Florida International University law school but as an ex-felon, he is unable to be a member of the Florida Bar. That was one of the reasons he was seeking a pardon.

He is now the executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which pushed to put Amendment 4 on the ballot and pass it, potentially restoring the right to vote to 1.5 million Floridians.

“That’s one of the reasons why we started the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition — to change the clemency system because it is arbitrary,” Meade told reporters after the meeting. “There’s no rhyme or reason and you just have to wait for the governor and the rest of his Cabinet to go through whatever process they need to go through to come to make a decision.”

The DeSantis administration is defending a law passed by the GOP-led Legislature in 2019 requiring felons to pay fines and fees before they can vote and recently won a federal appeal ruling in that case. Meade is not a party to the case and did not bring up the lawsuit during the hearing or in comments to reporters afterward.

The Clemency Board doesn’t meet again until December, but Meade will still be able to vote in the November election, since Amendment 4 restored his right to vote. The full pardon he’s seeking will allow him to join the Bar, serve on a jury and regain the right to own a firearm.

The board did restore civil rights to Neil Volz, who worked with Meade as deputy director of the FRRC. Volz was a lobbyist who worked for Jack Abramoff, and in 2006 he pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to bribe a congressman he previously worked for as an aide. Moody recused herself in his case too.

Volz said he was pleased to get his rights back but disappointed Meade must continue to wait.

“Incredibly mixed emotions,” Volz said. “Personally I’m very grateful to be able to move forward in my life … but at the same time I’m reminded of the challenges we have in the clemency process when I see my brother not be able to move forward in the same way I was.”


©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.