McCollum pushing outside counsel bill

John O'Brien Jan. 12, 2010, 2:52pm


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is calling a bill that would reform the contingency fee contract into which his office enters with private attorneys his top legislative priority.

A version of the bill was shelved in May, but it was re-introduced in December by state Sen. John Thrasher. The bill caps the amount of money private attorneys can earn while representing the State.

"Scandal-fatigued Floridians have heard about far too many shady deals involving public officials," McCollum said. "This legislation takes aim at one of the most egregious forms of public corruption - pay-to-play politics."

The bill also provides more readily available public information about contingency fee contracts, such as timesheets. It is modeled after the practices McCollum uses.

The cap system provides a certain amount of attorneys fees for each tier of an award or settlement and allows a maximum of $50 million. McCollum, a Republican, is running for governor this year

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

On 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.

The amendment said 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.

Lisa Rickard, the president of the U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform, joined McCollum in calling for the bill's passage. The ILR owns Legal Newsline.

McCollum's likely opponent in the governor's race, Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, does not agree with the legislation.

"I think we have to look at it on a case by case basis and get the best deal for the taxpayer," Sink said during a State Board of Administration meeting Tuesday, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

"We have to look at the case, how much money might be at stake. We want maximum value might be available to retirees and taxpayers."

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