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Sansom panel will move forward on inquiry

A House committee investigating Rep. Ray Sansom's conduct as a lawmaker voted 5-0 Tuesday to deny the former House speaker's motion to dismiss charges he violated the rules of the House. The committee also rejected a request by Sansom to delay the House hearing until after his criminal trial is over.

With Sansom watching from a front-row seat in the audience, the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct followed the advice of its attorney, special counsel Melanie Hines, that Sansom has been given adequate time to hire a new lawyer and that a full hearing should move forward.

The issue of whether Sansom's budget dealings improperly benefited a local college and a developer should be resolved "sooner rather than later," Hines said.

Hines noted that the panel has twice granted delays at Sansom's request, the most recent one to give him time to find a new lawyer after Richard Coates withdrew his representation, citing a conflict that involves not Sansom but other potential witnesses in the case. But the committee showed its desire to move forward as Rep. Faye Culp, R-Tampa, was first to urge that the motion to dismiss be denied.

"I believe that we should move forward," Culp said.

Sansom's new attorney is Gloria Fletcher of Gainesville, who joined the case only last week and is reviewing "four bankers' boxes" of documents that total more than 7,000 pages.

-- Steve Bousquet