Thomas Feiter complains to Florida Bar after Orange County GOP backs Seth Hyman
Thomas Feiter. Image via YouTube.

He suggests in his letter that members of the REC were coerced into the endorsement without all the information.

State Attorney candidate Thomas Feiter has filed a bar complaint after failing to receive Orange County Republicans’ endorsement.

The Orlando Republican said party leaders were uninformed and potentially coerced when they backed Seth Hyman as a preferred choice for party nominee.

“I have no problem with the Republican Party supporting the candidate they feel is most appropriate,” he said. “In this particular case, Seth Hyman was terminated for unethical behaviors and it appears they did not know that before they decided to endorse.”

Witnesses at the June 27 meeting say Feiter acted combative at the meeting and was clearly angry at the time. One person said after a woman upset Feiter by calling him a name, Feiter got into the 65-year-old’s face and started screaming.

Hyman did not return calls for comment. But Orange County GOP Chair Erin Huntley said the party took a stance chiefly out of concern that Feiter’s values were out of step with the party, while Hyman has been a party regular for years.

Huntley called a special meeting on whether to endorse after seeing campaign videos where Feiter offered praise to Monique Worrell, the Democrat elected State Attorney in 2020 who was later suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis for failing to “faithfully enforce the law.”

“We have had such a hard time because people would like criminals to be prosecuted,” Huntley said.

Feiter, for his part, said he believes DeSantis was right to suspend Worrell. “If she was not doing her job and using her office as a platform to promote social change, that’s wrong,” he said.

But in a campaign video, he said, “For all I know, Ms. Worrell was a good lawyer and a well-meaning person.”

More than that, Huntley said she was upset that Feiter appealed to Democratic donors and voters before securing the Republican nomination for the post. One REC member said Feiter has touted endorsements from Democratic officials while seeking the Republican nomination.

Huntley said nobody on the local Republican Executive Committee (REC) apparently disagreed with her concerns. While the vote to endorse was held in executive session, she said four members abstained, most supported Hyman and none wanted to endorse Feiter. The matter was debated for 14 minutes.

But Feiter argues with that in a letter to the Florida Bar calling for an “appropriate investigation into the meeting.” He attacks Huntley by name, but also lawyers active in the party including Austin Arthur and Joshua Grosshans. He asserts that the endorsement was done through an “exploitative process she (they) deployed on the vulnerable adult members of the Orange GOP.”

“The very senior audience was clearly driven and influenced by significantly younger Early Career Professionals, Twentysomethings, and Thirtysomethings including Orange GOP Chair Erin Huntley, Attorney Joshua Grosshans, and Mr. Austin Arthur,” the letter reads.

“It was apparent that Ms. Huntley, Mr. Grosshans, and Mr. Arthur knew members of the audience on a personal level (i.e., it appeared these younger members gained the trust of the senior citizen members).”

He also attached in the letter personnel files on Hyman showing he was fired from the State Attorney’s Office under former Democratic State Attorney Aramis Ayala. That shows he was investigated for accusations that he withheld exculpatory evidence that could have cleared defendants of crimes.

REC members considered that a low blow, especially since Ayala was unpopular with Republicans, a Hyman suggested he was among many terminated for being tough on crime.

A personnel memo written by then-Chief Assistant State Attorney Deborah Barra in 2017 said Hyman “compromised or attempted to compromise justice in order to gain an advantage in a case.”

Notably, Barra ran to succeed Ayala as State Attorney but lost to Worrell in a Democratic Primary in 2020.

Feiter also asserts in the letter that before running, DeSantis Chief of Staff James Uthmeier and party leaders including Huntley urged him not to run to clear a path for Andrew Bain, whom DeSantis appointed to fill out Worrell’s term.

Bain, however, is running for the office without party affiliation, and will face the winner of the Republican Primary and Democrat Worrell in the General Election. The election is for State Attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, which covers Orange and Osceola counties. The Osceola County Republican Executive Committee also endorsed Hyman.

Huntley said before the meeting on the endorsement that Feiter and Hyman were both present and spoke to members of the REC to make his case. But things proved contentious outside the meeting when the committee went into private session to vote.

Feiter said he knew many at the event opposed some of his positions. Most notably, he said he was booed when he said he supported diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the State Attorney’s Office, and booed again later when Hyman denounced his support of DEI.

“I’m not a politician; I’m just trying to be a good person,” he said.

Feiter said he isn’t asking the Florida Bar for a specific response to the letter, and would leave that up to the bar.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

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