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Ethics panel seeks 'plane truth' in 3 major cases

The familiar white paper covers the windows of a basement-level hearing room in the Capitol's Senate Office Building. That's the tip-off that the Commission on Ethics is meeting in executive session Friday, considering separate complaints involving the use of state aircraft by three high-ranking state officials.

The three are Attorney General Bill McCollum, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp. The commission will decide behind closed doors whether any or all of the complaints have probable cause. A yes determination means the agency will launch a full-blown investigation, while a no vote will exonerate the officials of wrongdoing and the complaints will be dismissed.

The ethics commission won't announce its decision until next Wednesday, but a person who is the subject of an ethics complaint can waive confidentiality at any time. As candidates for governor (McCollum and Sink) and attorney general (Kottkamp), the three are eager to clear their names as soon as possible.  

None of the three elected officials was at the hearing. Among the lawyers on hand are former Supreme Court Justice Major Harding and former Attorney General Richard Doran, representing Kottkamp; Mark Herron, who represents Sink; and Richard Coates and Bucky Mitchell, representing McCollum.

-- Steve Bousquet