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Trial bar owns up to race-baiting flyer in Senate fight

In an extraordinary mea culpa, the head of the state trial-bar lobby on Wednesday owned up to the fact that the group was behind a crude race-baiting direct mail flier intended to build a universe of absentee voters in the recent Northeast Florida Senate race.

The piece, which is destined to be infamous in the annals of direct-mail politics in Florida, shows Black Panthers, President Obama, the Rev. Louis Farrakhan and ACORN marchers and asks: "Is this the change you want to believe in?"

The mailer, to 88,000 homes in Northeast Florida, was paid for by a $69,000 check by a trial-bar group, the Conservative Citizens for Justice, which sent the money to a newly-formed 527 called Conservative Voters Coalition, established by Tallahassee lawyer Dave Ramba. A trial bar staffer hired Republican consultant Bill Helmich to create and develop the mail piece.

"Morally and politically it was indefensible, what was done, and I accept full responsibility for not having done anything to stop that piece from going out," said Scott Carruthers, executive director of the Florida Justice Association, the trial bar's statewide lobbying arm. "Politics is a contact sport, but it needs to be played with honesty and integrity."

Carruthers said his handling of the piece fell far short of the trial bar's internal processes for scrutinizing mail pieces. The organization is now busy telephoning African-American legislators to apologize for having paid for the scurrilous mailing.

In an exclusive interview with the Times/Herald, the trial bar apologized for ignoring a reporter's requests for information on the flier in the week since the election ended.    

-- Steve Bousquet