Community Voices And Freedom of Speech

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.

— Steve’s Marketplace —

Newspapers crave reader participation, almost as much as ink and paper to print their publications. It’s the lifeblood of a worthwhile newspaper.  

A prized section for participation is the “Letters to the Editor.” Here, readers share their voices about what’s printed in the newspaper, what’s talked about in the community, what’s on their minds.   

Though my conservative columns are often targeted by liberal counterpoints, you respect civil opinions expressed in each letter. It’s called freedom of speech.  

Until a couple weeks ago. Local attorney John Cascone took issue with my criticism of overly zealous prosecutors pursuing Donald Trump. Fair enough.  

However, the theme of his letter was defending the legal system as pure and constitutional at every turn. And he asked me where I was when the system worked the way it should.  

He referenced the jailing of former local sheriff Laurie Ellis. Cascone pondered: Where were you when the feds indicted Sheriff Laurie Ellis and the case went to trial rather expeditiously?  

“Nowhere to be found, that’s for sure!” Cascone quipped. 

Actually, counselor, you made a serious error in your comments. I was right here in Fernandina Beach, new to town, working as an ambitious editor of the News-Leader when it was part of the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. I was the youngest editor in the celebrated group.  

We covered the Ellis case from suspicion to indictment to conviction. We worked alongside FBI investigators to expose the wrongdoings of the once-esteemed sheriff. The News-Leader won many press awards for our exemplary coverage, which included a color photograph of Ellis in handcuffs (taken by the News-Leader’s Robert Fiege). 

The legal axiom is to never ask a question unless you know the answer. Cascone is a seasoned and respected attorney. In his ranting, however, he violated the cardinal rule of the legal profession.   

Cascone pontificated further, saying: “A friend, who I believe to be an ultra-conservative, has always told me ‘the beauty of America is we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts!” I concur, counselor. 

In contrast, it’s funny how conservatives will rarely speak out. They fear vilification, cancellation, character assassination. Just look at parents being investigated for speaking out at school board meetings. At Catholic churches being observed as militant incubators. Or at anyone affiliated with Trump — including the former president himself — getting the book thrown at them like a Justin Verlander fastball.   

Not to re-litigate my column, but for Trump to face 91 charges and potentially 700 years in jail seems a little extreme. Take it from Trump’s main political adversary, President Joe Biden, when he said this: “I’m making sure he (Trump), under legitimate efforts of our Constitution, does not become the next President again.” And I believe Biden oversees the justice department. 

The biggest sticking point is that most of the so-called crimes occurred at least several years ago. How do you explain the timing of the lawsuits, most scheduled during the Republican primary season. In many polls, a majority of Republicans see the actions against Trump as being politicized. I guess Cascone is on the other side of this. 

Any attorney will tell you the legal profession hinges on precedent. When a case is decided in a particular way, ensuing cases endure the scrutiny of that earlier decision. What’s being done to Trump has never happened before – to a former president, or a political opponent, in the U.S. It has happened in other countries, however. 

So there is no precedent here for these actions. And Cascone wants to whitewash this political travesty through the sanctity of the constitution. Some of the contrived charges date back to World War I, and even the Civil War.  

Yet another popular feature of the News-Leader is the readers’ choice awards. Here, readers vote for their favorite businesses anonymously, by writing in, without fear of retribution. I’m flattered to win the “Best News-Leader Columnist” award in back-to-back years.   

You would never think this to be the case, judging from the negative letters to the editor like Cascone’s – as opposed to positive ones about my conservative musings. And the letter writers can be quite vocal, critiquing columnists like me, submissions from other readers, public officials, etc.   

As long as it’s not libelous, it’s legal. And coveted.  

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Steve Nicklas is the managing partner of Nicklas Wealth Management in Fernandina Beach. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in weekly newspapers in Northeast Florida and in Southeast Georgia, and on his website at www.SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He has also done financial reports for area radio stations and for National Public Radio in Jacksonville. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 904-753-0236.)