PANAMA CITY — As former chief assistant State Attorney Greg Wilson awaits his sentencing for helping two Bay County Jail inmates pass communications, The Florida Supreme Court has effectively suspended his license to practice law.
The order was handed down Thursday after The Florida Bar filed a notice of determination of guilt against Wilson. He was found guilty as charged Sept. 19 of possession of contraband in a detention facility for helping the inmates — sisters Clista Robbins and Christy White — pass a “kite,” or folded piece of paper, inside the jail. Wilson then lied to investigators about his role in the exchange, for which he was convicted of perjury in an unofficial proceeding. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 5 by Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet.
Wilson, the former second-in-command of the State Attorney’s Office, could face up to a combined six years in prison on the charges, although many local veteran attorneys have said it is unlikely he will be incarcerated.
The question for many of Wilson’s colleagues and friends now is whether he will be adjudicated guilty of a felony or if Overstreet will go against the jury’s recommendation and conditionally withhold his adjudication. Wilson’s career as an attorney could be over with an adjudication of guilt since it would strengthen the case for disbarment. While his professional fate hangs in the balance, the state’s high court has effectively suspended Wilson’s license to practice law by ordering him to find his current clients new legal representation and not take on more clients.
“This suspension shall be effective (30) days from the date of this order so that (Wilson) can close out his practice and protect the interests of existing clients,” The Florida Supreme Court ordered. “If (Wilson) notifies this court in writing he is no longer practicing and does not need (30) days to protect existing clients, this court will enter an order making the suspension effective immediately.”
Chief Justice Charles T. Canady has appointed Linda L. Nobles, chief judge of the First Judicial Circuit, to act as “referee” in any disciplinary action brought by The Florida Bar against Wilson. Nobles will hear arguments in the case, file a report within 90 days concerning the appropriate sanctions to be imposed and issue a recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court.
Recommendations could range for admonishment to disbarment.
The Florida Bar filed its notice Thursday with the Supreme Court that a determination of guilt would be forthcoming. They opened a file on Wilson shortly after his arrest in October 2017 for perjury and introduction of contraband into a detention facility. In the immediate wake of Wilson’s conviction, though, The Bar has yet to complete its investigation.
Karen Y. Kirksey, spokeswoman for The Bar, said that investigation is now “at staff level.” The Bar’s “discipline roadmap” explains that to mean that further investigation is warranted and is in the hands of one of five branch offices of The Bar. Since the investigation is pending, no reports are currently available to the public. And a timeline in unavailable for when those could be expected, Kirksey said.
“All cases are different,” she said. “It just depends on the situation.”
Wilson, 46, started his career as a Panama City police officer and climbed the ranks of law enforcement to eventually reach a crescendo as the second-in-command at the SAO. He spent seven years in that role under State Attorney Glenn Hess until 2016 when he abruptly resigned from the office and challenged his former boss in a primary battle for top prosecutor over Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties.
Wilson said the decision came after Hess did not fulfill an agreement to bow out at the end of his second term and hand Wilson a shot at the office. Wilson lost to Hess by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin, but he vowed to make another run for state attorney in 2020 and turned to private legal practice in the meantime.
It was about a year later Wilson became the subject of a BCSO investigation at the Bay County Jail after officers stumbled across an Aug. 14, 2017, recorded jailhouse call they suspected involved controlled substances. In the call, Robbins told Wilson in vague terms that she thought something was in her car — “if it’s there, get it,” she said — and Wilson responded he would get rid of it. Because of the possession of prescription narcotics charges Robbins had been arrested on and the belief that she and Wilson had a romantic relationship, BCSO expanded its investigation.
It eventually led authorities to install video cameras — without audio capability — in an attorney interview room where they could video Wilson and the two sisters. In the video captured in September 2017, Wilson furtively accepts a folded note from Robbins during one meeting and then passes it to White in a different meeting. When questioned under oath about his actions, Wilson categorically denied the allegations as “absolutely false,” even reciting his rights to himself at one point, but at that time he was not aware of the video. He was arrested about three weeks later.
Hess recused himself and his office from the investigation because of ties with Wilson, and State Attorney Jack Campbell of the 2nd Judicial Circuit was appointed to prosecute the case.
Because BCSO consulted with Hess about the legality of the cameras in the confidential room, Wilson’s defense attorneys attempted to argue political retaliation played a factor in the decision. But Overstreet denied the request, saying the groundwork for a “selective prosecution” defense had not been established. Despite the court order against the argument, Wilson’s defense attorneys repeatedly called the case a “ruse” in closing arguments and attempted to show a law enforcement bias against him.
After Wilson was found guilty as charged, Campbell said his investigation was solely focused on the jailhouse calls and exchange captured on video. Hess said to his knowledge that similar misconduct did not take place during Wilson’s time in the SAO.
Court records indicate Wilson, in his role as an attorney, has six criminal cases pending and three civil cases.