Trouble in paradise: The former head of a Florida nonprofit chronicles his years of legal troubles with state bureaucrats and a twisted justice system.
First-time author Dahly moved to Florida in 1992, switching careers to become executive director of Wheelhouse, a nonprofit in Lakeland, Fla., that ran group homes for people with cerebral palsy. Jealous of her lost position and power, the co-founder and former director of the group began a vendetta against him. Using powerful friends in the state bureaucracy—including, apparently, Gov. Lawton Chiles, “the self-proclaimed ‘he-coon’ (a dominant male raccoon)” whom she’d grown up with—she brought hellish legal troubles upon Dahly by convincing the Florida Department of Children and Families to launch investigations and criminal and investigative cases against him, including a felony charge of misappropriating Medicaid funds. Dahly spends most of the book describing the cases and how he defended himself against them—sometimes with corrupt or incompetent lawyers, occasionally with good ones and finally representing himself when he ran out of money to pay an attorney. Ultimately, he prevailed in defending himself. Even so, though he cleared his name in the eyes of the law, the wrongful accusations wrecked his reputation and finances. Dahly thoroughly and persuasively explores the power of the state and its shady, incompetent “bureaucrat goons” and “good-ole-boy backward judicial system” and how this unholy combination can force innocent defendants into the high-stakes lottery of praying for a fair judge and jury. Still, though the charges of corruption, incompetence and ignorance among state officials and nonprofit employees may be shocking, Dahly provides enough balanced evidence to make them credible. The title oversells the book, however: Though much of the courtroom sparring makes for good reading and the book offers keen insights into internal squabbling and backbiting among the nonprofit’s staff and board members, the heavy detail sometimes becomes numbing, and all in all, it’s hardly a thriller. In the end, as Dahly points out, “the people who had abused their powers…flourished at my expense,” while after seven years of suing the state for damages as his own lawyer, he finally has to give up and move away because of Florida’s swampy laws and judicial system.
A disturbing look at the dark side of the Sunshine State.