February 10, 2010

House panel approves Sansom's witness list

At a brief hearing Wednesday morning, the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct voted to issue subpoenas for the scheduled Feb. 22 hearing on allegations of misconduct against former House Speaker Ray Sansom.

The Destin lawmaker's list of potential witnesses numbers 35 people, including former Speaker and U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio and six other legislators: Sens. Don Gaetz, Mike Haridopolos, Dennis Jones and Joe Negron and Reps. Mary Brandenburg and Marti Coley. Two former House members also could be called to testify: Joe Pickens, now president of St. Johns Community College in Palatka, and David Mealor, an associate vice president at UCF.

The testimony by Rubio at a hearing on Sansom's conduct would be a full-blown media spectacle. The name of former Sen. Lisa Carlton of Osprey, Sansom's budget-writing counterpart in 2007, has dropped off the list of potential witnesses.

The five-member committee also OK'd its independent counsel's request to issue subpoenas to 25 individuals who may be called to testify against Sansom. Most are linked to Northwest Florida State College, the school that offered Sansom a job after he secured millions of dollars in state funding as House budget chairman.

Sansom, accompanied by his attorney Gloria Fletcher, attended the brief meeting. Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, confirmed he has had initial discussions with Fletcher on a possible "consent decree" with Sansom, but Galvano said at this point he expects the hearing to go forward. "We're well prepared to have a hearing on the matter. It's been pending for quite some time," Galvano said. 

-- Steve Bousquet   

February 02, 2010

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

January 22, 2010

Sansom gets more time to find a new lawyer

The House committee probing ousted Speaker Ray Sansom's conduct voted Friday to honor the Destin lawmaker's request and delayed its work for one final time to give Sansom time to hire a new lawyer. But the panel, headed by Rep,. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, voted to move forward and act on pending matters at its next meeting on Feb. 2, whether or not Sansom finds a lawyer by then.

"I just want to make sure that we have a fair hearing," Galvano told reporters. "We need to get these issues addressed. That's why we have a firm date on Feb. 2. But we need to move forward." Asked if it's common for someone to need weeks to find legal representation, Galvano said: "That's such an open-ended question. It depends on the case ... I think we're being fair by giving (him) the additional time to find counsel."

Sansom did not attend Friday's brief hearing in the Capitol. In a Jan. 19 letter, he had asked for a delay, saying: "The resolution of this complaont is important to me personally and to the entire Florida House. As soon as I have retained an attorney, I will notify Rep. Galvano and his staff."

If the committee agrees to try Sansom on possible violations of House rules, it will take place the week of Feb. 22. The five-member Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct includes Republican Reps. Faye Culp of Tampa and Rich Glorioso of Plant City, and Democratic Reps. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach and Ari Porth of Coral Springs.The committee hopes to finish its work in time to recommend action in the Sansom case to the full House by the March 2 start of the session.  

-- Steve Bousquet

January 20, 2010

Hansen, former Senate staffer, leaves House for Senate health

House staffer Mike Hansen, whose work under indicted House Speaker Ray Sansom got him called before a grand jury, is moving to the Senate.

Senate spokeswoman Jaryn Emhof said Hansen starting next month will fill the vacancy in Health and Human Services Appropriations that just came with the retirement of Elaine Peters. Emhof said the Senate asked Hansen to take the post because of his "expertise in healthcare and Medicaid and experience in the appropriations process."

She said it will be "of great value during these difficult economic times." Hansen will serve under the direction of Ways and Means Staff Director Skip Martin.

January 14, 2010

Sansom will be asked to testify before House

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

December 17, 2009

Padrón, lawmakers, Times/Herald listed as newsmakers of 2009

Some of you might have already seen Florida Trend's feature in its January edition called "Florida Newsmakers of 2009." But if you haven't, here are some highlights:

Eduardo Padrón was named Floridian of the Year for his work as Miami Dade College president to re-shape the way the country views community colleges.

In government, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, is highlighted for his role in passing SB 360, the growth management bill.

Also from the halls of government, the magazine puts a spotlight on the passenger rail bill and its chief opponent, Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland.

A third government article, you ask? Why there's Ray Sansom, the former House Speaker indicted for his role in steering $35 million in taxpayer funding to Northwest Florida State College.

Florida Power and Light gets a nod for its work on solar plants.

Another honor for the star University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

The magazine (a sister publication of the St. Petersburg Times) was also gracious enough to write a few words about the scribes at the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau.

November 05, 2009

House probe of Rep. Ray Sansom will continue

A House investigation to determine whether Rep. Ray Sansom violated legislative rules of conduct will go forward. A a select committee took that step Thursday over the opposition of Sansom's attorneys, who had requested a delay until Sansom's criminal trial is complete, citing the possibility that media coverage of the House probe could make it difficult to find an impartial panel of jurors inTallahassee.

The Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct voted to follow the advice of its independent counsel, Melanie Hines, in going forward with the probe of the Destin Republican, who resigned his speakership last January and is awaiting trial on a perjury charge. If he is found guilty of violating House rules, he could face sanctions ranging from a reprimand to expulsion.  

Hines, a former statewide prosecutor, gave committee members a legal memorandum in which she said the public interest in Sansom's case is of paramount importance. "The public has the right to demand that only those persons whose trustworthiness and integrity are beyond question participate in the process by which laws are passed," Hines wrote. She added that Sansom's lawyers said the House investigation has only a "potential to jeopardize the lawmaker's criminal case.

The panel chairman, Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, outlined a timetable for the probe, which includes a formal response by Sansom to the specific allegations by Nov,. 15; an exchange of witness lists by Nov. 20; completion of discovery by Dec. 24; and joint pretrial stipulations by Jan. 15, 2010. The actual hearing is now set for the week of Jan. 25-29, 2010.

-- Steve Bousquet

October 13, 2009

House cost to prosecute Sansom: $300 an hour

The House of Representatives released a freshly-inked contract with former statewide prosecutor Melanie Hines, who was hired last week to prosecute Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, on charges of violating House rules that govern members' conduct. Hines, a shareholder in the Berger Singerman law firm, will be paid $300 an hour, according to the three-page document (signed by Hines and House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala).

In language standard in contracts for legal services, the firm lso can charge $125 an hour for paralegal services and may assess additional costs for copying, runner services, court reporters, long distance phone calls, faxes, postage, air freight and similar expenses.

Hines' job, according to Paragraph 1, Scope of Services: "... to serve as Independent Counsel to prosecute the matter of Complaint 09-01, which was filed by Susan T. Smith against Representative Ray Sansom. The powers and duties of the Independent Counsel are limited to those set forth in the House Rules." Hines will report to a five-member select committee chaired by Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

-- Steve Bousquet

October 07, 2009

House seeks ex-statewide prosecutor for Sansom inquiry

The select House committee investigating Republican Rep. Ray Sansom agreed Wednesday to recommend the hiring of an independent prosecutor: Melanie Hines, a former statewide prosecutor, law school professor and registered Democrat.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the decision to hire Hines is an indication that the six-member committee is moving forward on a citizen complaint by Susan Smith of Odessa that Sansom violated the House rules in his dealings as budget chairman on behalf of a Panhandle college and a state-funded building that aided a developer friend's private jet business.

Hines, 54, of Tallahassee, is a registered Democrat. In 2004 she was named of counsel to the firm Berger Singerman law firm, which has a high Democratic profile in both state and national politics (name partner Mitchell Berger was instrumental in Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign in Florida). The website www.opensecrets.org says Hines gave $1,000 to the Florida Democratic Party, $2,000 to Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign and $1,250 to Sen. Bill Nelson's 2006 re-election effort. 

Galvano said Hines' qualifications were vetted closely and that he saw no reason to question her ability to impartially judge the facts in the Sansom case. "I think her reputation speaks for itself," Galvano said. "This is not a question of it being Republican or Democrat. I think we looked for who was a qualified person, and who the committee members would be comfortable with."

Hines served as statewide prosecutor from 1991 to 2003 and previously was an assistant public defender. She's a graduate of the Florida State University College of Law and now teaches law there. The next step is for House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, to negotiate terms of Hines' state employment.

-- Steve Bousquet

October 06, 2009

Crist: Tossing of Sansom count shows 'system works'

Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday that a state judge's decision to dismiss official misconduct charges against Rep. Ran Sansom and two others is proof that the judicial system works properly.

"The judicial system works. It hopefully works effectively and well," Crist said. "Everyone is innocent till proven guilty, and I think there's some more outstanding issues as I understand it. We have a good system of justice."

Sansom, R-Destin, and developer Jay Odom still face perjury charges. Trial before Circuit Judge Terry Lewis is scheduled for Oct. 26. Asked if the Sansom affair has been damaging to the Republican Party, Crist said:  "I don't think so. When they dismiss charges, I think that's an improvement."

State Attorney Willie Meggs wants Attorney General Bill McCollum to appeal Lewis' dismissal of counts against Sansom, Odom and former Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg. Asked if McCollum should follow through with an appeal, Crist said:  "I think that's up to the attorney general. I got enough on my plate."

-- Steve Bousquet