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House probe of Rep. Ray Sansom will continue

A House investigation to determine whether Rep. Ray Sansom violated legislative rules of conduct will go forward. A a select committee took that step Thursday over the opposition of Sansom's attorneys, who had requested a delay until Sansom's criminal trial is complete, citing the possibility that media coverage of the House probe could make it difficult to find an impartial panel of jurors inTallahassee.

The Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct voted to follow the advice of its independent counsel, Melanie Hines, in going forward with the probe of the Destin Republican, who resigned his speakership last January and is awaiting trial on a perjury charge. If he is found guilty of violating House rules, he could face sanctions ranging from a reprimand to expulsion.  

Hines, a former statewide prosecutor, gave committee members a legal memorandum in which she said the public interest in Sansom's case is of paramount importance. "The public has the right to demand that only those persons whose trustworthiness and integrity are beyond question participate in the process by which laws are passed," Hines wrote. She added that Sansom's lawyers said the House investigation has only a "potential to jeopardize the lawmaker's criminal case.

The panel chairman, Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, outlined a timetable for the probe, which includes a formal response by Sansom to the specific allegations by Nov,. 15; an exchange of witness lists by Nov. 20; completion of discovery by Dec. 24; and joint pretrial stipulations by Jan. 15, 2010. The actual hearing is now set for the week of Jan. 25-29, 2010.

-- Steve Bousquet