Fla. bill will target AG's investigations

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 11, 2011, 12:00pm


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - Two Florida lawmakers announced Wednesday their intent to file a bill to "preserve the integrity" of the state's investigatory agencies, including the Attorney General's Office.

The move to introduce the legislation stems from the recent decision of Attorney General Pam Bondi's office to fire two assistant attorneys general.

Joe Jacquot, a former special counsel with the Attorney General's Office, left his post and in May joined Jacksonville firm Lender Processing Services as its senior vice president.

LPS is currently under investigation by the state for its foreclosure practices.

Two weeks later, in June, the two assistant attorneys general, Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson, were let go.

Bondi's office has said Edwards and Clarkson, who led foreclosure fraud investigations under former Attorney General Bill McCollum, were ousted for "poor performance."

State lawmakers, including Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, have said they are troubled by the relationship between the firm and the Attorney General's Office.

In response, state Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West, filed the Florida Investigation Integrity Act this week.

The legislation would prevent employees at state agencies with investigatory or regulatory functions from working for any individual or organization that is the subject of a civil or criminal investigation or judicial proceeding during the time of the investigation.

The bill also would prohibit the employee from working for the organization for two years after an investigation concludes.

"The Florida Investigation Integrity Act will close the revolving door that has put the credibility of our investigatory process in jeopardy," Soto said in a statement.

"The state places a trust in people with the expectation that their intention is to best serve the state. This bill will help ensure that this expectation is realized."

Saunders said it is "imperative" that the public regain trust and have confidence that state agencies are diligent in fighting fraud.

Soto and Sobel are conducting their own investigations into the two firings.

Soto, who represents Orange and Osceola counties, recently filed a public records request with the Attorney General's Office, seeking more information about the firings. Sobel also filed a request with Bondi's office, asking for more information specifically on the relationship between her office and LPS.

Soto has pointed out that public records indicate that the terminations occurred while the two were in the midst of successful mortgage fraud litigation and "in spite of prior successful reviews."

"As a member who represents an area ravaged by foreclosure fraud, these terminations present an overwhelming public concern," he wrote in a letter to Bondi.

Under the state's Public Records Act, he has requested that the Attorney General's Office provide him with "any and all records related to job performance" of Edwards and Clarkson within the past three years.

Also as part of his request, he has asked that Bondi's office provide a list of all case numbers for all currently active cases managed by Edwards and Clarkson and the amounts of any settlements, along with their case numbers, occurring within the past three years in cases managed by the two.

Bondi, herself, said last week that she would seek an independent review of her office's decision to fire the two investigators.

The attorney general has said the decision to fire Edwards and Clarkson was made by three top administrators in her office.

Soto's and Saunders' legislation has been submitted to House bill drafting for consideration in the 2012 legislative session that convenes in January.

The bill has not yet been assigned a number nor formally filed.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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