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This is an email I’ve been hoping I’d be able to send for a long time now but doubted whether I ever could. It gives me great pleasure to report that Oren Miller’s bogus felony conviction has been vacated, with a Florida appeals court instructing the hack lower court judge who oversaw his trial to substitute a proper verdict of not guilty instead.
To refresh your memory, Miller was a commissioner in Sumter County, home to the massive retirement community The Villages. He and two others had run as a slate, campaigning to overturn a property tax increase the developer who owns The Villages had foisted on residents. Residents were furious that the money wouldn’t go to fund amenities, upgrades, and services for existing residents but would instead subsidize further development. In other words, they’d be paying more every year for the privilege of making it harder to get scarce tee times.
Despite being massively outspent, the slate won, and began moving forward on repeal. That’s when the full force of the state’s Republican Party apparatus was brought to bear. The local GOP representative, a highly paid employee of The Villages, introduced legislation at the state level to block the repeal and got it passed; the local GOP prosecutor, a Ron DeSantis ally, launched an investigation into the commissioners for trivial procedural allegations; and DeSantis himself ultimately removed Miller and one of his fellow commissioners from office. The other commissioner, worried about the prospect of jail from what was clearly a politically motivated prosecution, cut a plea bargain.
Miller maintained his innocence and insisted on going to trial. Shockingly, after he was charged with felony perjury, the local GOP judge, Anthony Tatti, denied him bail and sent him to a violent central Florida jail for 75 days awaiting trial. At trial, shot through with enough nonsense that the verdict would later be overturned, Miller was found guilty.
I was at the sentencing, and watched him emerge into the courtroom. Bearded and thinning, he’d been regularly denied heart medication and was lucky, at 72, to have made it out alive.
After our investigation into all this was published in The Intercept and run as a Deconstructed audio piece, his story went viral, and readers and listeners kicked in more than $50,000 to his legal defense fund. That enabled him to appeal his conviction, and on Thursday, a three-judge panel, made up entirely of Republican appointees, unanimously overturned his conviction.
It is not an exaggeration to say that without the contributions to his defense fund, and without the reader support that keeps The Intercept going, he’d still be a convicted felon. Now, with his name cleared, he’s able not just to vote but also run for office again, and he is strongly considering doing so. He wanted to send a thank you to the Intercept readers who gave, and I second that. The problem in this case was not a lack of local news coverage. The paper there, owned by the developer, is the thickest in the county. But the coverage framed Miller and the other commissioners as criminals of the century. Look how petty their article on his exoneration is.
Meanwhile, on today’s episode of Deconstructed, along with playing a brief clip of my phone call with Oren and his wife as they got the news, I interviewed United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain. I spoke to him just before he rallied yesterday in Illinois with Biden. He’s a fascinating figure, it’s worth the listen.