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House seeks ex-statewide prosecutor for Sansom inquiry

The select House committee investigating Republican Rep. Ray Sansom agreed Wednesday to recommend the hiring of an independent prosecutor: Melanie Hines, a former statewide prosecutor, law school professor and registered Democrat.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the decision to hire Hines is an indication that the six-member committee is moving forward on a citizen complaint by Susan Smith of Odessa that Sansom violated the House rules in his dealings as budget chairman on behalf of a Panhandle college and a state-funded building that aided a developer friend's private jet business.

Hines, 54, of Tallahassee, is a registered Democrat. In 2004 she was named of counsel to the firm Berger Singerman law firm, which has a high Democratic profile in both state and national politics (name partner Mitchell Berger was instrumental in Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign in Florida). The website www.opensecrets.org says Hines gave $1,000 to the Florida Democratic Party, $2,000 to Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign and $1,250 to Sen. Bill Nelson's 2006 re-election effort. 

Galvano said Hines' qualifications were vetted closely and that he saw no reason to question her ability to impartially judge the facts in the Sansom case. "I think her reputation speaks for itself," Galvano said. "This is not a question of it being Republican or Democrat. I think we looked for who was a qualified person, and who the committee members would be comfortable with."

Hines served as statewide prosecutor from 1991 to 2003 and previously was an assistant public defender. She's a graduate of the Florida State University College of Law and now teaches law there. The next step is for House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, to negotiate terms of Hines' state employment.

-- Steve Bousquet

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