Jury selection begins in Marion County today in the felony perjury trial against suspended Sumter County commissioner Oren Miller.
The trial is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday before Judge Anthony Tatti.
Miller, 72, and former commissioner Gary Search, 72, were arrested in December 2021 on charges of lying under oath in a criminal investigation.
Both men were suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January, and in August voters affirmed DeSantis’ appointments to replace them.
Search resigned in April as part of a deal to avoid further prosecution, and he agreed to testify in the case against Miller.
Search has provided such testimony, and his own words are key to the state’s evidence, the Daily Sun has learned from recordings obtained through a public records request.
Search has told prosecutors that:
• Dozens of private cellphone calls between him and Miller did occur, even though both men testified under oath that they did not. Both men knew before they testified that the state was investigating potential violations of Florida’s open meeting law that bans elected officials from discussing official business through back channels.
• Several calls came just before or just after commission meetings, including a 17-minute call the day after the county attorney admonished commissioners to cease any such communication.
• Miller, and no one else, was indeed on the other end of every call, even though Miller’s attorney has argued that someone else might have been using his phone.
• Several of the phone conversations involved animal rights issues advocated for by Miller’s wife and criticism against Miller’s fellow commissioners that she posted “in thousands of social media posts.”
• The men did privately discuss several issues that “were technically county business and weren’t supposed to be talked about,” according to Search’s attorney, Richard Hornsby. Search acknowledged that the topics went beyond the animal tethering issue to which he has already admitted to what Hornsby called “a few items that are problematic if we’re being sticklers about the law.” Search said those official items included plans for an animal shelter, complaints of illegal burning, storm flooding response, the governor’s Covid vaccine rollout and how to enlist lobbyists to fight DeSantis on impact fee limits.
The state will also call on testimony from county administrator Bradley Arnold and county attorney Jennifer Rey.
The state’s case will also present Verizon phone records for Miller, his wife Angie Fox, and Search.
Witnesses would could be called to testify for the defense include two Villages residents and an Inverness attorney who filed formal complaints with the state about potential violations of Florida’s open meeting law; investigators from the state attorney’s office and Sumter County Sheriff’s Office; and Sumter County commissioners Craig Estep and Doug Gilpin.
Miller faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or firstname.lastname@example.org.