State Attorney vs. State Attorney; Harry Shorstein and John Tanner Are in a Bitter Feud over Jurisdiction

Article excerpt

Byline: DANA TREEN

A closely guarded document that has pitted two of Northeast Florida's most powerful public officials against each other inched closer to disclosure Friday because of a ruling by the state Supreme Court.

For six months, State Attorney Harry Shorstein of Jacksonville pushed through an investigation into allegations that John Tanner, prosecutor for neighboring St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties, abused his authority when he conducted an investigation of the Flagler County jail.

Tanner's investigation - which resulted in several indictments by a Flagler County grand jury - was more than a year after his daughter, Lisa, was arrested in Flagler Beach. Although it did not address her case, it eventually raised questions by some that a father's anger was coloring his actions.

Then-Gov. Jeb Bush, asked by Tanner to reassign the case, handed the investigation off to Shorstein, who empaneled a grand jury in Duval County that cleared the corrections officers and then turned its attention to Tanner's handling of the investigation.

Two months ago, the grand jury issued a report, called a presentment, that has been sealed by a judge as both sides lobbed motions about the appropriateness of the other's investigations.

The Supreme Court said Friday it would not hear arguments by Tanner, who has read the report, that Shorstein and the Duval County grand jury had no right to look over his shoulder.

"It was a delaying tactic that we have overcome on the road to making the presentment public," Shorstein said Friday.

Linda Pruitt, a spokeswoman for Tanner, said other issues of jurisdiction are still pending.

"Does it change anything? No," she said. "We're still in litigation."

The battle between the two state attorneys has stretched from Jacksonville to DeLand - where a circuit court is considering another jurisdictional issue raised by Tanner - and includes a $265-an-hour attorney that Tanner has hired at public expense and a deluge of motions and orders directed at a document so secret even the number of pages is guarded.

Many grand jury activities are held in secret, so the cost of all the investigations is uncertain. Public documents do show private attorney Jon D. Kaney of Daytona Beach has charged Tanner's office $147,627 as of Jan. 25.

Though Tanner did not investigate his daughter's arrest and was looking into other abuse cases, two other state attorneys have conducted investigations of Lisa Tanner's March 2005 arrest. One of those attorneys also looked at a November 2005 incident in Flagler Beach in which she was arrested.

The clash has spilled beyond the walls of courtrooms and grand jury rooms where Tanner and Shorstein do their daily work and into the family lives of both men. Talk of drugs, pornography and arrests are repeated and charges of retaliation and payback fly.

Before Bush assigned the case to Shorstein, all four sheriffs from Tanner's circuit went to the governor to complain about the direction of Tanner's probe.

Tanner in turn has accused Shorstein of wanting to do the "bidding" of sheriffs in Tanner's 7th Judicial Circuit, "lobbying" Bush for the assignment and planning to "whitewash" misconduct at the jail.

In court filings, Tanner also has accused Shorstein of political ambition and wanting to be mayor of Jacksonville.

"As soon as he goes back to Duval County and stays there, it will be over," Tanner said.

Shorstein calls Tanner's accusations "false, impertinent and scandalous" and said he tried to turn the assignment down.

"He obviously did not want to be investigated," Shorstein said.

It's unusual to see officials at such a high level engaged in legal shouting matches, especially when both men have held the offices for about 1 1/2 decades. But observers, including those who were involved early on, say the tension is palpable. …