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FPL's 'disservice' leads to hiring of Bob Butterworth

Florida Power & Light, the state's largest utility embroiled in a controversy over its bid for a major rate increase, has acknowledged for the first time that it mishandled its efforts. The utility has hired Bob Butterworth, a former Democratic attorney general who was regarded as an ally of consumers, in an effort to repair its damaged image.

Butterworth said FPL's handling of the rate case has been "a total disservice" to Floridians. He has been hired to undertake a thorough "fact-finding" as to how the utility "dropped the ball" in its rate petition.

FPL issued a statement on Thursday in which it said "there are some things we would like to have changed about the way in which we approached this case." In an interview, Butterworth said the FPL president was a lot more direct about his company's image problems.

"I was very surprised with the company president said, 'We have botched this completely.' Then he said, 'Can we retain you?'" Butterworth recalled of his meeting in West Palm Beach with FPL President Armando Olivera. "I'd never met him before in my life."

Butterworth said he was with Gov. Charlie Crist's chief of staff, Eric EIkenberg, in a discussion of recent political scandals in Broward County when the subject of FPL came up.Crist has consistently pummeled FPL's rate-hike request and successfully prevailed on the Public Service Commission to delay a vote until his two new appointees take office in January. Butterworth phoned FPL lobbyist Jim Smith, and got a return call from his son-in-law, Brian Ballard, who helped arrange a meeting two Mondays ago.

-- Steve Bousquet