A House committee investigating former Speaker Ray Sansom voted Thursday to invite the indicted lawmaker to testify before it next week, whether or not the Destin Republican is represented by an attorney. Sansom's lawyer, Richard Coates, resigned, citing a potential conflict, but the committee agreed that fairness requires that the lawmaker be given a chance to address the charges.
Thursday's action, at a 10-minute meeting, ratchets up the pressure on Sansom a bit, because he is now being asked to defend himself in a public proceeding. The panel will meet Jan. 22 to vote on whether to dismiss allegations that Sansom violated House rules in his dealings as budget chairman to benefit a Panhandle college that received millions of dollars in public funds and later offered Sansom a job.
"I would like to give the opportunity to Representative Sansom, if he wants to go with or without counsel, to contribute to those deliberations," said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, chairman of the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The panel's staff will send Sansom a letter formally inviting him to appear.
Sansom also faces a new grand theft charge before state court, and a judge is expected to set Sansom's trial date at a status conference also on Jan. 22. "We are no further along in learning when the criminal case will be resolved than when we last met," prosecutor Melanie Hines told legislators. "If anything, it looks as if it's going to be delayed even further."
Hines said she's prepared to try the case against Sansom the week of Jan. 25, but at Galvano's request that proceeding will be delayed until February.
-- Steve Bousquet