Lakeland atheist arrested for pretending to be an attorney

6:55 AM, Mar 5, 2011   |    comments
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  • Lakeland, Florida - An outspoken Lakeland atheist has been arrested. EllenBeth Wachs was arrested Thursday for allegedly  pretending to be a licensed attorney. But she says her arrest is just retaliation for demanding that God be removed from government.

    EllenBeth Wachs is no stranger to controversy. She's a member of Atheists of Florida. With about 500 members, the organization is unhappy that the Lakeland City Commission starts their meetings out, as it has for decades, with prayer.

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    They're also furious with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd for his recent decision to remove basketball goals from the jail only to donate them to local churches.

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    Wachs says she was stunned Thursday afternoon when more than a dozen deputies arrived at her Lakeland home to arrest her. She adds, "Obviously, it was overkill."

    She says, "Merely humiliating or embarrassing us is certainly not going to work to stop us."

    Wachs was charged with engaging in unauthorized practice of law. She's the legal affairs coordinator for Atheists of Florida and says, "I've always said I'm a retired attorney."

    Wachs showed us her law degree from Widener University. She was licensed to practice in Pennsylvania but not Florida. She says she retired in 1997 after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

    Wachs says, as if being arrested wasn't bad enough, she had a special visitor while she was being booked.  Sheriff Judd was giving a county commissioner a tour at the time.  Wachs says, "I see him pull up with the county commissioner and I say, 'Oh, really?' This was way too coincidental."

    10 News tried to contact the sheriff. His spokesperson says he's not commenting. We also tried to contact the Polk County state attorney but were told he was out of the office Friday afternoon.

    Meanwhile, Wachs has hired an attorney and says she'll fight the charge. She adds, "You know what if this can happen to me, this can happen to you. Be afraid. Be very afraid."

    Tammie Fields, 10 News

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