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State loses attempt to have Sansom suit dropped

A Leon County circuit judge on Thursday denied a motion by the state to dismiss a suit by former House Speaker Ray Sansom, who is seeking more than $800,000 to cover his legal defense against corruption charges that were later dropped.

Calling it a “fascinating case,” Judge Kevin J. Carroll said the suit should move ahead to a hearing.

Sansom, a Republican from Destin, had been charged him with conspiracy and grand theft in his role as House budget chairman after he secured millions of tax dollars for a local college that later offered him a job. Prosecutors argued that Northwest Florida State College received money for a building that could also be used as a hangar for a jet business owned by Jay Odom, who was a major supporter of Sansom’s.

Sansom resigned and state prosecutor Willie Meggs later dropped the charges against the former legislator and Odom, after a judge ruled that the state had failed to show evidence of a conspiracy to steer money to the college building and possible hangar.

Lisa Raleigh, special counsel with the Office of Attorney General argued on Thursday that Sansom’s complaint failed to show that the original litigation resulted from Sansom's official duties.

But Sansom’s attorney, M. Stephen Turner of the firm Broad and Cassel, said an issue involving an appropriations act in the Legislature constitutes a public purpose.

“I believe the state knows it’s responsible” to pay Sansom, Turner said, adding “We’re not here to retry the case.”

Turner, who said he will also be asking the state to cover his attorney fees, noted that costs associated with the case are climbing. Sansom is already asking for $817,518.73 plus interest to pay the Tallahassee firm Dobson, Davis & Smith, which is now joining the suit.

Rochelle Koff, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau