Skies darken on McCollum's sunshine bill

John O'Brien May 4, 2009, 1:36pm


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - A bill that would have reformed contingency fee contracts in the Florida Attorney General's Office died Friday when the House of Representatives refused to accept an amendment to the bill added by the Senate.

House Bill 215 put caps on the amount outside attorneys hired by the State could earn, as well as provided more readily available public information about contingency fee contracts. It is modeled after the practices current Attorney General Bill McCollum uses.

"This was an important piece of legislation, one which we will pursue again next year," McCollum said.

The amendment at issue allowed outside attorneys to make more than the cap system allowed if the attorney general thought they deserved and a majority of the four Florida Cabinet members (governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner) agreed.

On Friday, the last day of the session for non-budget items, the House asked the Senate to recede the amendment. House Speaker Larry Cretul had the power to call for a vote on the amendment but did not.

The original bill was amended by the Senate. Sen. Dennis Jones, a Republican, pushed the amendment, which would allow private attorneys to earn more than the cap system allows.

The system provides a certain amount of attorneys fees for each tier of an award or settlement and allows a maximum of $50 million. The amendment says the caps may be exceeded if the attorney general determines if there were exigent or unusual circumstances or specialized legal knowledge or experience was needed.

Contracts perceived by some as "pay-to-play" have been a hot topic around the country recently.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has drawn recent criticism for his decision to hire Houston-based plaintiffs firm Bailey Perrin Bailey to file suit against Janssen Pharmaceutica over alleged off-label marketing of one of its prescription drugs.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett was not impressed with BPB's evidence at the meeting and declined to file the suit himself. Rendell hired BPB to represent the state, but has received criticism because the firm contributed $75,000 directly to his 2006 campaign, $16,000 in airplane travel and $25,000 to the Democratic Governors Association.

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King was also criticized in the Wall Street Journal for his agreement BPB, and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has also hired the firm, which donated $50,000 to him.

Hood also hired campaign contributors who turned out to be felons for the case against Eli Lilly & Co.

Cretul threw Rep. Julio Robaina off the Florida bill's committee for adding an amendment, though his differed from the Senate amendment.

Robaina's amendment did not provide for a vote by the Cabinet.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at

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