Article Courtesy of The Miami
Herald/St. Petersburg Times
By Janet Zink
Published August 19, 2011
TALLAHASSEE -- It’s
been a rough month for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
She faced criticism in late July for the
forced resignations of two attorneys leading the state’s foreclosure
Then last week, assistant attorney
general Andrew Spark released a 16-page diatribe accusing the office of
failing to aggressively pursue foreclosure and consumer protection
“The people of the State of Florida are
entitled to fair and honest government, independent of personal
connections and powerful interests, and I have decided to speak out,”
Spark wrote. He quit the next day.
Democrats are seizing on
the controversy, turning what Bondi has characterized as
issues with subpar, disgruntled personnel into political
embarrassment by calling for independent investigations
and introducing legislation aimed at Bondi’s office.
revelations: Two top lawyers left Bondi’s office to
work for companies under investigation, and when he
launched an examination of the advertising practices at
Tampa’s Ferman Motor Cars, his supervisor noted that
Robert Shimberg, who helped raise money for Bondi’s
campaign and served on her transition team, is
Ferman’s company attorney.
appears to be a small case, but the target is a very
prominent Tampa business and their long time counsel is
Robert Shimberg,” wrote Richard Lawson, director of
the AG’s Economic Crimes
Pam Bondi, left, takes the oath of office for Florida’s
Attorney General accompanied by Dr. Greg Henderson, center,
during inauguration ceremonies in Tallahassee, Fla., Tuesday,
Jan. 4, 2011.
in an e-mail after Spark received approval to investigate Ferman. “You
should be aware of this in case the AG has any questions. If the case
develops into something more significant I will advise accordingly.”
A short time later, Spark’s direct
supervisor suggested that the case be settled by allowing Ferman to
resolve the advertising question with fine print.
The case is ongoing, said Jennfier Meale, a
spokeswoman for Bondi. Spark notes in his memo that Lawson’s e-mail
didn’t mean Shimberg’s firm expected anything in exchange for his
involvement with the transition team, “just that several people at the
Division of Economic Crimes reacted as if he did.”
Bondi dismisses the notion that Ferman
received special treatment.
“My only goal from day one has been to go
after the bad guys, and give favoritism to no one,” she said.
Spark, she said, released his memo after
learning he himself was under investigation.
“I wish I could micromanage this office
of 1,200 employees,” she said. “I can’t.”
It was Lawson who made the
decision to dismiss the Fort Lauderdale-based foreclosure attorneys, June
Clarkson and Theresa Edwards.
The two say they were fired
for political reasons, and had received glowing performance reviews from
their previous boss, Bill McCollum.
Bondi’s office, though, has
said their work was less than stellar.
Shortly after Bondi took
office, Lawson met with attorneys for one of the firms they were
investigating, Jacksonville-based Lender Processing Services, who
complained that Edwards and Clarkson included inappropriate information in
a presentation to court clerks.
Edwards and Clarkson also
authored a subpoena challenged in Palm Beach County by the law firm of
Shapiro & Fishman, also under investigation for irregularities in
A circuit judge in October
deemed the subpoena “vague,” “burdensome,” “invasive” and
“unlikely to reveal actionable conduct.” An appeals court upheld the
ruling in April.
Around that time, the two
also released a subpoena that was part of a multi-state investigation of
Lender Processing Services to a South Florida blogger, Lawson said.
“That was extraordinarily
embarrassing and could have been very problematic for these
investigations,” Lawson said.
A few weeks later, he
offered Edwards and Clarkson the opportunity to resign or be fired.
“It was apparent there
would be one error after another,” Lawson said.
As for Spark, a spokeswoman
for Bondi said he was “repeatedly failing to meet performance
standards,” and was the subject of an investigation for using his work
computer to do personal business with an auction company he was
But his screed has
resonated, creating at the very least a public relations nightmare for
The memo notes that
assistant attorney general Joe Jacquot left his state job in May to work
for Lender Processing Services, and Mary Leontakianakos, formerly head
of the state’s Economic Crimes Division, this summer went to work for
Marshall Watson, a Fort Lauderdale law firm that in March paid $2
million to settle a foreclosure fraud inquiry.
Both Jacquot and
Leontakianakos say they had no connection to investigations of the
companies they went to work for.
Both say they will abide by
the state ethics law that forbids them from representing their new
employers before the attorney general’s office for two years.
Still, the revelation
prompted Democratic state Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando to introduce a
bill he calls the “Florida Investigatory Integrity Act,” which
limits the ability of employees in the attorney general’s office to
work for companies that have been investigated.
Soto and other lawmakers
also pressed for an investigation into the resignations of Clarkson and
Edwards. Although Bondi has stood by Lawson’s assertion that the two
were forced out for poor performance, she did express concern that their
deficiencies weren’t properly documented, and has asked an outside
inspector general to look at the firings.
“I wouldn’t be able to
say there’s some greater conspiracy going on based on the information
I have,” Soto said. “My concern is that Clarkson and Edwards were
fired to help out the banks and my concern among some of the employees
who left is at least the perception of a coziness between the banks, the
mortgage industry and the attorney general’s office.”
Meanwhile, the liberal
advocacy group Progress Florida is circulating news reports about
Bondi’s managerial problems, calling it, “Bondigate.”
“You learn when you get
elected, sadly, that politics play into everything,” Bondi said.
“It’s tough when people accuse you with baseless allegations, but
I’m going to continue to do what I know is right.”
Accusations of impropriety rock Pam Bondi's office
Assistant attorney general resigns after
memo blasting office
Attorney General’s office to investigate dismissals
faces call for inquiry into forced resignations of two state lawyers
State rips job quality of two fired foreclosure fraud investigators
general's ouster of 2 top investigators raises troubling questions