News Service of Florida | Weekly Roundup: Courts, Bondi’s Personnel Decisions Dominate the Week
It was a week full of legal maneuverings, from a major ruling in the battle over the landmark health-care law passed last year to a series of controversies over attorneys leaving the attorney general’s office.
COMING AND GOING IN THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE
When the state’s attention wasn’t riveted on the outcome of the court case, it was instead focused on the lawyers who argued the cases. It was getting harder and harder to keep up with the organizational chart in Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, or at least to track who was leaving and why.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Spark quit Wednesday as Bondi was threatening to put him on administrative leave. Spark wrote a 16-page memo outlining what he saw as shortcomings in the office’s effort to go after fraud, and accused two fellow employees of trying to block his efforts to initiate investigations. But Bondi said the memo divulged information about ongoing investigations — and “failed to include that [Sparks] was the subject of an ongoing investigation for using the services of a business he was investigating.”
Or maybe it did. Spark wrote about a case in which he was investigating a health club chain of which he was a member.
But conflict-of-interest accusations surrounding AG employees were all too common. Joe Jacquot, who left the attorney general’s office earlier this year, defended his work at the office before he took a job with Jacksonville-based Lender Processing Services, which was under investigation during his time with the state. But Jacquot said he was careful to wall himself off from any discussions about the firm once he knew he might take a job there. (Incidentally, Jacquot spent much of his time working on the health-care lawsuit.)
Jacquot’s departure in May and his landing at LPS was scrutinized in part because Bondi has been under the microscope for the firing of two attorneys who worked in the economic crimes unit on the fraud cases. Critics alleged that the attorney general’s office has gone soft on the firms, and claimed also that there’s a revolving door culture between the agency and the firms.
And two other former McCollum attorneys have ties to firms that were under investigation — one who quit when Bondi took over and another who was fired by Bondi.
It wasn’t long before politicians entered the fray, with Reps. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee and Ron Saunders, D-Key West, and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, announcing they were working on legislation to prevent lawyers who leave the attorney general’s office or certain other agencies from going to work for a company that had been under investigation while they were there.
“It is bad policy for the integrity of the investigation, and the perception,” Soto said Wednesday in an interview.