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House probe of Rep. Sansom gets underway

A five-member House committee met for the first time Tuesday to consider a complaint against Rep. Ray Sansom of Destin, the former speaker whose dealings with a hometown college and the state budget have produced an indictment on three felony counts.

After the panel's staff summarized the case against Sansom, the select committee's first official action was to vote unanimously to hire an independent counsel in the coming weeks, who will guide the panel through its deliberations. In a January complaint, Susan Smith of Odessa alleged that Sansom had, in three cases, voilated House rules through his dealings with Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, which she said had greatly diminished the public's respect for the House as an institution. 

The committee, formally called the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, is chaired by Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Other Republican members are Reps. Faye Culp of Tampa and Rich Glorioso of Plant City; the Democratic members are Reps. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach and Ari Porth of Coral Springs. The panel was appointed by House Speaker Larry Cretul in June after special investigator Steve Kahn, a former Senate general counsel, found probable cause that Sansom had violated House rules.

Sansom has filed a general denial of the charges against him. He is not present at the hearing, and is represented by Tallahassee lawyer Richard Coates.

-- Steve Bousquet