Brian Pitts has been a ubiquitous, distinct voice in Tallahassee committee hearings as a “conscience and a unique watchdog over certain nonfeasance, misfeasance, or malfeasance in state government” since 2006.
In recognition of Pitt’s “great and hard work in improving Florida government,” he is again filing an “equitable claim” requesting the state compensate him and his 501(c)3 Justice-2-Jesus Charitable Trust.
Senate Bill 22, filed by Sen. Oscar Branyon, D-Miami Gardens, is among claim bills pre-filed by senators for the 2020 legislative session.
Claim bills are often submitted early in pre-filing sessions and are usually legislation asking the state to pay judgments issued against it in court.
SB 22 seeks $600,000 from the state to fulfill its “moral obligation” in compensating Justice-2-Jesus “for damages, including services and expenses, caused by the negligence or inaction, nonfeasance, misfeasance, or malfeasance of Florida government, and its civic charge on behalf of the taxpayers of this state to bring true change for the good of the order and to develop good government.”
The bill doesn’t cite what “damages,” exactly, Justice-2-Jesus [J2J] has incurred, but it is at least the third year in a row a senator has filed the claim on its behalf.
In 2018 and 2019, “equity claims” were filed seeking $240,000 in compensation for “injuries and damages sustained as a result of the negligence and inaction of state government.”
Both were withdrawn before Special Master review of claim bills.
In 2017 and 2018, claim bills were filed on Pitts’ individual behalf seeking the appointment of an administrative law judge to determine if there was a legal basis to compensate him for lost income he incurred after serving nearly a year in the Pinellas County Jail in 2010 after being found guilty of practicing law without a license.
He was reportedly seeking between $1 million and $7 million in those claims, which also did not advance.
Pitts is a founder of J2J, which describes itself as a St. Petersburg-based “non-denominational evangelical Christ-Centered New Testament-based free church.” It established the charitable trust in 2008 to engage in non-partisan “political and civic advocacy in government.”
A frequent presence at committee hearings, Pitts has been praised as an insightful contributor and an annoying gadfly – often at the same time by the same lawmakers – and is known by such catch-phrases as, “If the bill’s too long, you know there’s something wrong,” “Jesus wouldn’t agree with this,” and “I’m telling you right now, before you shoot yourself in the foot.”
“By the end of the 2008 regular legislative session, the [J2J] Trust had garnered the attention of many in the Legislature by attending and appearing before numerous committees and councils and through private correspondence with members of those bodies on issues covering all aspects of the lives of Florida residents and government,” the bill reads.
Its advocacy efforts “were clearly recognized by both the media and legislators, and many believed the Trust and its trustees suspect and had a hidden agenda and that its cause would not come to fruition; and so as not to deceive, exploit, embarrass, or harass officers and employees of the Legislature and the other two branches of state government, precautions and maneuvers were put into play to quickly defuse what seemed to be a problem.”
After 2008, Pitts essentially became J2J’s sole representative in Tallahassee. “Year after year,” the claim reads, “despite concerns by many of the Trust’s lack of sincerity, it continued in all manner of business with the utmost protocol and decorum with state officials and employees, and as such proved to be highly respectful and honorable.”
By 2012, according to SB 22, “the Trust proved itself and reached an apex, receiving the approval of many government officers and employees, and becoming the subject of countless news articles, videos, and comments of many.”
In fact, according to the claim, J2J has transcended lobbying and “has gone beyond its charge of civics, education, and government accountability, and with its services and resources has actually assisted Florida government in its processes and conduct and has brought about change.”
The claim maintains J2J merits compensation as “a unique watchdog” in performing “service to the residents of this state … otherwise such actions and conduct of state government would remain unknown, ignored, or concealed, and the time, effort, and means to undertake what the Trust has accomplished cannot be fairly comprehended.”
The $600,000 sum is a fair amount, the claim maintains, to serve as compensation for J2J’s ”voluminous dealings directly and indirectly with the three branches of state government.”
SB 22 is among 16 claim bills filed for the 2020 legislative session, which convenes Jan. 14 with committee hearings beginning in September. The 16 claim bills are among 54 bills pre-filed by Sunday in the Senate. Fifteen House bills have been pre-filed.