CFO Alex Sink lambasted the state's top financial regulator at the Cabinet meeting Tuesday for not aggressively pursing litigation against Bank of America -- her former employer -- for its deal with Merrill Lynch.
"I'm not really impressed with the comments you made," Sink started. "The last commissioner lost his job because he hid behind not having the powers or not having the resources. ... My main frustration ... is the sense of do nothingness and inaction in the face of all sorts of scams in our state."
The public scolding of Thomas Cardwell, the commissioner of the Office of Financial regulation, stood out for two reasons: 1. It deviated from the normally cordial decorum at Cabinet meeting and 2. Cardwell was Sink's pick for the job.
Also because Cardwell fought back. "This is not an excuse," he said, preceding it with the standard "with all due respect."
Sink wants the state to join an effort by the New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who last week sued BofA former CEO Ken Lewis for fraud concerning the purchase of Merrill Lynch.
Cardwell said the state is properly represented by three pending legal actions ongoing, one of which involves the state's pension fund as a party. He also said the laws at the time of the deal don't appear to give Florida the ability to recoup losses on behalf of individuals. The Legislature changed the law in 2009 and gave the Attorney General's Office broader powers to protect investors.
AG Bill McCollum came to Cardwell's rescue at one point, squaring off against his gubernatorial rival. The discussion ended unresolved.
His campaign called Sink's efforts a "stunt" though McCollum refused to stand by the claim. Sink, meanwhile, called the accusation "a bunch of bull."
Outside the Cabinet room, Cardwell said wouldn't comment on the heated exchange.