Antonacci gets ethical thumbs-up and a single vote of dissent
Gov. Rick Scott's former legal counsel, Pete Antonacci, got an ethical thumbs-up Friday from the state Commission on Ethics, with one member of the panel casting a dissenting vote.
Antonacci last month took a new job as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District where his wife, Tallahassee attorney Anne Longman, represents clients through her firm, Lewis, Longman & Walker, as a specialist in environmental, natural resources and transportation law.
At Antonacci's request, the ethics panel voted 7 to 1 to adopt an advisory legal opinion by its staff that concluded, based on a series of legal precedents, that it would not be a conflict of interest for Antonacci's wife to do legal work before the board where he serves as executive director.
"When you look at this thing in terms of appearances, people might say, how can there not be an ethical problem?" staff attorney Chris Anderson told the panel. "The ethics commission has always said that just the fact that you're married, it's not a contractual relationship in the meaning of the law ... Appearances aside, there doesn't appear to be any conflict here." What would be a conflict of interest, Anderson said, is if Antonacci were a member of his wife's law firm while she did legal work at the water district.
Ethics commission member Matt Carlucci, a Jacksonville lawyer, cast the single no vote without comment. He told the Times/Herald the relationship didn't pass his straight-face test and may not set the best example for others in government.
"It may be legally right, but we're giving advisory opinions," Carlucci said, adding that the law should be interpretet in a way that advances high ethical standards. Referring to Antonacci's situation, he said, "To me, that's not an arm's-length relationship. That could cloud someone's judgment."