Scott Carruthers

Michael Haggard

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Legal Newsline)-Florida's state trial lawyer group Friday suspended three staff members over a political mailer sent before a special election to fill the seat vacated by state Sen. Jim King's death.

Critics said the mailer was racially-charged. The flier was sent last month as part of the Florida Justice Association's opposition to former House Speaker John Thrasher, a Republican, who won the Senate seat.

Following an internal investigation by former state Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan, the Florida Justice Association said Executive Director Scott Carruthers, General Counsel Paul Jess, and Albert Balido, director of the group's political action committee, were temporarily suspended.

The mailer was sent to households in Florida's Senate District 8 in northeast Florida. The direct-mail piece warned voters that Black Panthers and "armed thugs" could try to intimidate them at the polls.

Displayed were photos of President Barack Obama, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and black civil rights leader Al Sharpton. The caption read, "Is this change you want to believe in?"

The mailer was sent from the "Conservative Voters' Coalition," which FJA staffers formed, the report said. Balido used $69,000 from Conservative Citizens for Justice, a group aligned with FJA, to set up the new group.

"We repeat FJA's apology for our financial role in the offensive and appalling absentee mail piece," said FJA President Michael Haggard. "We have enacted a series of reforms based on the information generated by Justice Kogan's inquiry and the findings of the report so that this never happens again."

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