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Suspicion Cast on Judge Skolnik's Accuser; Webmaster Now Under Criminal Investigation

For a man who claims to be a victim, Stephen Smith has behaved very strangely. The webmaster seized the domains of Broward Circuit Court Judge Peter Skolnik, then accused the judge of cheating him out of his work product -- yet Smith has refused to meet with a campaign activist who wants to settle the bill.

He's also filed a police report against Skolnik and a campaign activist, but Smith has tried to recant part of his statement to Fort Lauderdale police and has refused to cooperate with the department's investigation.

To the Skolnik campaign, Smith isn't the victim. He's the suspect. Now Fort Lauderdale police have to decide for themselves.

Police spokeswoman Kathy Collins confirms that there is an ongoing criminal investigation into Smith's conduct, although she was careful to point out, "We're not sure that a crime has occurred here." No criminal complaint has been filed.

The investigation into Smith's allegation, that Skolnik campaign activist Doug Harrison threatened to kill Smith and that the campaign cheated Smith out of his fee, hit a snag when Smith proved hard to reach. "We assigned a detective from our violent-crimes unit," Collins says of Smith's original complaint. "The detective contacted him twice. The first time, [Smith] was on the phone with a newspaper reporter and couldn't talk. The second time, our detective left a message but didn't hear back."

Collins says that late last week, after Juice posted excerpts from the police report Smith filed against Skolnik, Smith called Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderly. In that conversation, Smith complained that the FLPD officer had mischaracterized his statement.

Collins herself spoke with the officer who took that statement, and she says the officer stands by it. "He says he wrote verbatim what this guy told him," says Collins.

Police contacted Smith yesterday after learning from the chief that Smith was disputing the report that an officer took on his behalf. This time investigators reached him, but according to a report issued today by that investigator, Smith refused to specify what was inaccurate in the report and said he didn't want to talk by phone. The officer suggested they meet in person for a discussion but Smith wasn't willing to schedule that meeting, saying he'd call back to do so at a later time.

In the police report Smith filed, he expressed fears that Fort Lauderdale police were friendly with Skolnik and inclined to squash his complaint for that reason. Collins says she doesn't have any knowledge of Skolnik's having friendships with members of the department.

A campaign activist for Skolnik, Evelio Medina, says he has tried for weeks to arrange a meeting whereby he could settle the bill with Smith, such that Smith would give back the web domains, which are currently doing far more damage to the Skolnik campaign than good. But Medina says Smith wasn't interested.

This finally prompted the Skolnik campaign to meet with Fort Lauderdale police for a possible criminal case against Smith for theft relating to his seizing the web domains.

Medina asked that the Juice relay this message to Smith: "We want to pay you for what you did. Let's meet, get a table in a public place [Medina suggested New Times headquarters in Fort Lauderdale], and you can show us what you did. If you did $1,000 worth of work, then that's what you'll get."

Smith's reluctance to cooperate with the police investigation that he initiated, plus his unwillingness to meet to settle the bill, makes Medina suspect that Smith's motives are less-than-pure. He wonders if Smith is following orders from a political operative who wants to embarrass the Skolnik campaign.

"I believe they're trying to create blog things because they wanted to put together a mailing piece that the judge did this and that," says Medina.

For his part, Smith denies having any motive other than a desire to be paid exactly what he is owed. As to whether the FLPD misquoted him, Smith was cagey. "There's information with the Police Department that is correct, and there's information that's incorrect," he said, declining to be more specific. Pressed about the question of whether he was threatened, Smith said, "Yes, they were attempting to intimidate me."

As for the mistakes in the police report, Smith said that the officer recorded the incident date as being July 4 when it was actually July 3.

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Thomas Francis

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