Willie Meggs, state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, decided last week not to prosecute Franklin County Commission Chair Pinki Jackel for a misdemeanor related to filing for dual homestead exemptions.


Willie Meggs, state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, decided last week not to prosecute Franklin County Commission Chair Pinki Jackel for a misdemeanor related to filing for dual homestead exemptions.



In a three-page amended “nolle prosequi,” commonly known as a “do not prosecute” order, Meggs elaborated on his Aug. 13 motion not to prosecute the case as a criminal matter, citing evidence that he said indicated Jackel had not knowingly filed for exemptions both in Georgia and in Florida. The first-degree misdemeanor in question requires that a person “knowingly and willfully (gives) false information for the purpose of claiming homestead exemption.”



In his analysis, Meggs concluded Jackel “acted in good faith in establishing a separate residence from her husband, and was not even aware of her husband’s filing for homestead exemption on the Georgia home.”



In his analysis, Meggs agreed with the factual basis laid out in the 12-page report filed June 20 by Larry Levy, attorney for Property Appraiser Doris Pendleton’s office. Levy’s report gave rise to Pendleton citing Jackel, as a civil matter, for back taxes and penalties due the county on her home at 301 West Gorrie Drive property, for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011.



In paying the $4,947 bill on June 26, Jackel provided a letter from Tallahassee attorney Stephen Slepin, who wrote that neither she nor her husband, Marietta, Ga. attorney Dana Jackel, “believes the homestead exemption was improperly allowed” but were paying the back taxes “out of an abundance of caution.”



Meggs indicated he did not think the fact that the Jackels maintained two homestead exemptions during that three-year period meant Pinki Jackel had run afoul of the law.



“While it is generally not permitted by law for a married couple to claim homestead exemption on two homes, there are limited circumstances in which a married couple may establish separate residences and claim separate homestead exemptions,” Meggs wrote.



The state’s attorney went on to cite a 1963 Florida Supreme Court ruling in Judd v. Schooley, as well as a 2005 advisory opinion by Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist that Meggs said, when taken together, gave a property appraiser discretion to determine whether a homestead exemption was legal.



“An argument could certainly be made that Pinki Jackel and her husband have in good faith established two separate residences as contemplated by the Judd court and the Attorney General,” Meggs said. “While Mr. and Mrs. Jackel are neither divorced nor estranged, maintain joint checking accounts for survivorship purposes, and file joint tax returns, they live separately.”



Meggs noted that in March 2009, Pinki Jackel had quit claimed her interest in the couple’s Kennesaw, Ga. home to her husband. “Afterwards, her husband filed application in Georgia for the Georgia homestead exemption under his signature alone,” Meggs wrote. “It appears that Mr. Jackel filed this second homestead exemption without Mrs. Jackel’s knowledge.”



To underscore his conclusion that Pinki Jackel was unaware of her husband’s actions, Meggs drew on statements from Tax Collector Jimmy Harris in which Harris said he had spoken to her on June 25 regarding an unrelated matter when he mentioned the homestead exemption violation and resulting tax bill.



“Mrs. Jackel said she didn’t know what he was talking about, and proceeded to make a phone call to someone saying ‘what have you done’ and then something about being accused of a double homestead exemption violation,” Meggs wrote. “Mr. Harris said based on Mrs. Jackel’s behavior, he didn’t think she knew about Mr. Jackel claiming homestead exemption for the Kennesaw, Georgia residence.”



Meggs also noted that Pinki Jackel had paid the tax bill within days of being notified of it, and gave a sworn statement to State Attorney Investigator Johnny Turner that she was unaware that her husband had filed for homestead in Georgia.



“Further, if Mrs. Jackel was not aware that her husband filed for homestead exemption in Georgia, it appears that any violation of homestead exemption law (if there is any violation at all) occurred in Georgia, and by Mrs.. Jackel’s husband,” Meggs wrote.