Fla. House committee OKs outside counsel reform

John O'Brien Feb. 16, 2010, 1:00pm


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's plan to reform state contracts given to private law firms received a recommendation from a House committee Tuesday.

The Florida House Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council, chaired by Republican Rep. Will Snyder, gave a favorable recommendation to the bill, which would cap the amount private attorneys can make while representing a state agency.

The bill is modeled after practices McCollum, who is running for governor, currently uses in his office. Similar reform was recently adopted by the State Board of Administration for firms hired for securities lawsuits.

"We have heard reports of outside law firms getting sweetheart deals to represent states and walking away with millions in fees, and it's repugnant," McCollum said.

"This legislation will insulate the Florida Attorney General's Office from any situation that could involve a pay-to-play arrangement."

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. The legislation also provides more readily available public information about contingency fee contracts, such as timesheets and firms' bids.

The litigation hit a snag last year when 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.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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